“DISRUPTION” has become a buzzword to describe anything that threatens the status quo. And we have all seen the benefits of it in our everyday life. Old monopolies across diverse industries have disintegrated, and we can now personalize everything from the music we listen to, the ways we shop and how we order our food.
Some of these revolutionary changes have come rapidly. But in the world of education, the 20th-century, one-size-fits-all system continues to endure.
The time is ripe for Virginians to push for true educational freedom so all families—regardless of their income or ZIP Code—can personalize their path toward success in school, in careers and in life. For our nation and individual states to thrive, we must equip each and every child to compete globally so we can prosper locally.
This month, more than 850 events around Virginia are celebrating the opportunity for families to have more than only one choice when it comes to finding the right educational path for their children.
They joined more than 40,000 events nationwide during last week’s National School Choice Week.
We can point to some steps forward when it comes to empowering families with educational freedom in Virginia. Magnet programs allow school districts to focus on particular fields of study so students can graduate ready to continue on that path in college or in a progression.
Some Virginia parents can now choose a public charter school that has the flexibility to innovate in the classroom to better fit the needs of their children. But only 1,500 students are served by ten charter schools. I am certain thousands of other families would like to have the opportunity to consider a charter school for their child as well.
More students are also choosing online education. In Virginia, middle and high school students can take online classes full- or part-time. And homeschooling has evolved into a rich array of options that include parents blending schooling at home with traditional classroom time.
These incremental changes, however, have not created the disruption we truly need in the world of education where America’s students continue to fall farther behind their international peers.
We can start with expanding our Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits Program. Created in 2012, it has provided low-income families with the funds to send their children to an academic setting that fits their unique needs and that would otherwise be unaffordable.
While there are nearly 1.3 million K–12 students in Virginia and around 500,000 are income-eligible, only about 4,500 can take advantage of this program.
Funded by individuals and businesses who donate to qualified scholarship foundations, this model ensures traditional K-12 funding is unaffected. But other states have much higher tax credit caps that allow far more students to participate.
We cannot prepare our students with the knowledge, skills and values they need to live successful and fulfilling lives without offering educational flexibility on par with other states. Virginia’s policymakers must focus on creating an education system that focuses on students rather than adults and bureaucrats.
I applaud the families and teachers who celebrated National School Choice Week around our commonwealth and around the country. True success would mean that these celebrations will grow each year until they are no longer needed, when families are freed from economic and geographic barriers and empowered to make their own educational decisions.