On January 23-29, 2011 more than 200 organizations came together for a week of action to spotlight effective education options for all children in American. Tens of thousands of advocates, parents and concerned citizens participated to raise awareness of school choice. This year National School Choice Week is January 22-28, 2012.
So, what does school choice mean?
School vouchers give parents the freedom to use all or part of the tax funding set aside for their children’s education to send their children to the public or private school of their choice. Vouchers can take different forms – including universal voucher programs, income-based voucher programs, vouchers for children performing poorly in public school or who are attending failing public schools, or special needs vouchers. During the 2011-12 academic year, there are 16 voucher programs in 11 states and Washington, D.C.
Tax-credit Scholarship Programs
Tax-credit scholarships allow businesses or individuals to invest in the education of children in their communities by giving them tax credit from state taxes for donating to non-profit organizations. The organizations use that money to fund private school scholarships for students. In some programs, students must meet certain income criteria to be eligible for scholarships. Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs) are non-profits that can be started by anyone. Participating private schools are required to meet standards for safety, fiscal soundness, and non-discrimination. Currently there are ten tax credit scholarship programs in eight states.
Personal Tax Credits and Deductions
Personal tax credits and deduction situations, parents are given a tax credit or tax deduction from state income taxes for approved educational expenses. This usually includes private school tuition as well as books, supplies, computers, tutors, and transportation. Even when tuition is not eligible for the credit or deduction, these programs still make school choice easier for parents because they relieve the burden of non-tuition expenses at private schools. Some programs restrict the income level of eligible recipients or the amount they can claim. There are currently 6 programs in 6 states during the 2011-12 academic year
Open Enrollment improves student achievement and enhances parental choice in education by providing additional options to students to enroll in public schools without regard to their parents’ residence. Open Enrollment provides students in the traditional public school system the choice to enroll in a school in any district provided without regard to the pupil’s school of residence. Open Enrollment laws vary by state with some states having more restrictive policies and others more liberal.
Parents who choose homeschooling educate their children outside of public or private schools, typically within their own homes. This method of education is becoming more and more common in the United States, growing from about 15,000 students in 1970 to approximately 1.5 million as of 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Many states require standardized test scores, curriculum approval, and regular professional evaluation of students.
Charter schools combine the accountability and oversight of traditional public schools with the flexibility of private schools. Charters are tuition-free independent public schools that are freed from many state and local rules and regulations in exchange for increased financial and academic accountability. Parental involvement is strongly encouraged. Charters are open to all children – students are selected at random. They are accountable for results-based student achievement. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools during the 2010-11 school year, 40 states and Washington, D.C. operate charter school laws. Currently 5,277 charter schools serve more than 1.8 million students.
Virtual Schools and Online Schooling
Virtual schools are institutions that teach students entirely or primarily through online curriculum. They provide flexibility and allow for highly individualized, personalized instruction. In some states, virtual schools must have a brick-and-mortar location where children go to receive online instruction. In other states, online instruction can be done from home. The International Association for K-12 Online Learning estimates that 1.5 million students took one or more online courses in 2010.
[Information for this post came from the National School Choice Week website at http://www.schoolchoiceweek.com/]