School Choice Spreads as Pandemic Public Education Falls Short
Across the country, a flurry of new legislation aims to expand educational options during the pandemic and beyond. Iowa is on its way to passing a major school choice bill backed by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds. Nebraska may bring opportunities for homeschooled students to play team sports and participate in public school extracurriculars. Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Vermont, and Washington state are also considering some positive changes.
In celebration of National School Choice Week, here’s a look at some of these reforms.
A new proposal from Reynolds establishes school choice in Iowa by granting state scholarships to public school students who want to attend private schools. “We do not believe this is a private vs. public school debate. It is simply a school choice for the parents to choose,” said Anne Rohling, president of St. Albert Catholic School and a strong supporter of the proposal. “Open enrollment in the public schools [has] allowed families the opportunity to seek out the best fit for their children. If this legislation will empower more families to have more choices, then we are in support of it.”
But the bill also faces strong opposition, in and outside the Iowa statehouse. The President of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP “says this could lead to segregation in some Iowa Schools,” reports CBS 2 Iowa. “We agree that parents should have the choice to enroll their child in a private or religious school, but not with public taxpayer funds,” said Council Bluffs Superintendent Vickie Murillo.
Larry Gray, director of the Council Bluffs Heartland Christian School, responded:
The concern we hear from parents has always been ‘we live in the community, pay for and attend a Christian school, but our taxes still go to the public school system.’ I would say that most—if not all—parents would simply appreciate their tax dollars going to the school of their choosing.
Washington state Rep. Vicki Kraft (R–Vancouver) is trying to establish a school choice voucher program in her state. Last week, Kraft introduced House Bill 1215, which “would establish the K-12 Education Scholarship Program in Washington state [to] award up to $7,000 per student each school year to be used for costs related to private school or homeschool instruction,” according to Clark County Today.
“We’ve seen how students have been affected this past year from a lack of education choices. This year alone, more than 32,000 Washington families have pulled out of the public-school system as they find that traditional zip-code assigned schools are simply not working for their children,” said Kraft in a statement. “This bill will allow parents to be able to provide the best learning environment for their child, no matter what the circumstance.”
State Sen. Dave Murman (R–Glenvil) seeks to expand athletic and extracurricular activities for homeschooled students. Murman’s bill (LB210) would let homeschooled kids participate in sports and other activities at local public schools. LB210 “would require school boards to set policies affording the same access to athletics, music, journalism and speech as public school students, without requiring home-school students to earn any credit at the school,” reports the Lincoln Journal-Star. “Under current guidelines, students must enroll in at least 10 credit hours—or two classes per day—to participate in extracurricular activities.”
Legislation from state Sen. Tammy Story (D–Jefferson County) and Rep. Cathy Kipp (D–Fort Collins) would remove a requirement for public colleges and universities to get standardized test scores from all applicants. “We believe there are plenty of students out there who have great potential while they may not have great tests scores,” said Story. “They should have all the same opportunities to go forward with higher education if they choose.”
A proposal from Rep. Kasey Carpenter (R–Dalton) would let the state’s undoc
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