School choice advocates, school leaders, and families bring out their yellow scarves each January to celebrate National School Choice Week. In this era of divisive curriculum and shrill debates about damaging COVID-19-era school policies, identifying reasons to celebrate may take extra effort. When we look beyond unresponsive schools, however, the hopeful signs are increasingly evident.
First of all, parents and students are not trapped in their traditional public schools. In 2021, I launched a weekly interview series, “Escaping Your Government Assigned Schools,” for the Independent Women’s Network in order to inspire and encourage parents considering educational options for their children. I’ve spoken with women who have founded schools, launched initiatives to empower parents, or happily withdrawn their children from their assigned public schools.
Some of the women I interviewed are thrilled with their children’s academic and emotional transformation while home schooling and eagerly share their experiences with hybrid home schooling, microschools, and classical curriculum co-ops. I also have interviewed women who work tirelessly to ensure that families, especially lower-income parents, know their options and possess the information and tools they need to navigate their educational landscape.
Education entrepreneurs abound in our country, and hearing about the classical private or charter schools they have launched is both reassuring and inspiring. These schools draw on the classical model of education, which teaches grammar, logic, and rhetoric, introduces children to the great books, and provides a knowledge- and fact-based education.
As Erika Donalds, founder of the Optima Foundation’s network of classical charter schools, told me, “What we find in traditional education and the establishment education system is a lot of excuses and not a lot of solutions and innovation. That’s what I’m here to do — to shake up the establishment, to show them that the excuses are unwarranted, and to bring results for students and for families that cannot be denied. And in fact, that level of competition and innovation is going to force the traditional public school system to innovate and get better.”
My Independent Women’s Network conversation with Denisha Merriweather, founder of Black Minds Matter, featured both her powerful school choice story and her plans to empower families by promoting educational freedom and the development of high-quality school options for black students. Tera Myers, a tireless advocate for students with disabilities, spoke about her lengthy fight to create Ohio’s state scholarship program for students with special needs. Rhode Island mother Nicole Solas, who was sued by the teachers union after inquiring about her district’s curriculum, detailed her plans to fight back. The founders of Parents Defending Education and Moms for Liberty shared their endeavors to inform and empower parents around the country.
The increasing power of parent voices is another glimmer of hope to celebrate. The women I spoke with are not alone in their desire for educational freedom, parental empowerment, and leverage with their local school system. Throughout the pandemic, parents approached the podiums at local school board meetings to share their concerns and expectations. Their viral videos, letters to the editors, and media appearances did not fall on deaf ears.
Governors and state and federallegislators are listening and addressing the egregious power imbalance between parents and school districts. Encouraging signs include the governors of Arizona, Iowa, Nebraska, and Florida all promising to expand school choice in their recent State of the State addresses and state legislators filing numerous school choice bills. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey has already launched a new Open for Learning Recovery Benefit school choice program for income-eligible students, and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts proposed using federal American Rescue Plan funds to provide educational options for low-income children who have experienced learning loss during the pandemic.
As parental rights organizations channel their frustrations with the unresponsive bureaucratic education system into advocating for educational freedom, the freedom that school choice provides parents and students will spread. National School Choice Week provides an opportunity in this grim moment in our country’s history to be grateful for passionate advocates for students and full of hope for the future.
Ginny Gentles is a senior fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum and a contributor on the Independent Women’s Network.