The movement to empower parents with educational freedom is sweeping the nation. As more states continue to enact universal education savings account (ESA) programs, the Palmetto State has an opportunity to put students first by passing legislation that would allow parents to control how state funds are used on their child’s education. While some progress has been made in allowing children to transfer between public schools as well as the growing public charter school sector, it is important to recognize that even the best public school is not the right fit for every child.
Growing up in Columbia, I attended my neighborhood public schools from kindergarten through graduation and went on to earn an undergraduate degree from The University of South Carolina as a first-generation college graduate. I know firsthand the power of education and how important it is to ensure every child reaches their full potential. Today, I am the proud mother of four children — including a set of identical twins. Every day, I see the necessity of customizing how educational material is presented to children with the goal of recognizing that every child learns differently.
The power of parental choice in education is that it allows parents to respond to the needs of their children. If a child is struggling in a traditional setting, they oftentimes will fall further behind before giving up and deciding they are just “bad” at that subject. On the other hand, when a child is excelling in a subject, it is essential that their gifts and talents be nurtured. This is nearly impossible in a traditional system that is designed to teach to the middle and provide a uniform, standardized education that leaves little room for embracing a child’s learning differences.
Education savings accounts are a unique way for parents to tailor their child’s education to meet those learning differences. ESA funds can be used on a variety of expenses, including private school tuition, tutoring, therapy, or curriculum. With an ESA, parents can choose where, how, when, and by whom their child is educated. Parents’ control over these factors helps to ensure that they are satisfied with the progress their child is making academically and emotionally. If they are not happy, they can take their funds elsewhere.
The same level of authority cannot be said for families who are forced to send their children to a neighborhood school that is not meeting their educational and emotional needs. These families, like my own growing up, simply do not have other options. Private school tuition is outside of the family budget and homeschooling is difficult when you have a one-parent household or both parents must work a traditional nine-to-five job. However, with an ESA, these options become more attainable through flexibility in providers and innovative learning options such as online courses, tutors for hire, micro-schools, and homeschool co-ops.
There are hundreds of reasons a neighborhood school might not be the best fit for every child. In the cases where a family is satisfied with the education their child is receiving at a government school, they have every right and freedom to stay enrolled. However, for those families who seek an alternative or believe there has to be another way, an education savings account provides hope. We have seen the impact of private school choice programs across the country. From enhanced educational outcomes to notable emotional improvements for children who participate in choice programs, the results are more than just a statistic or a test score.
Lives are forever changed by the power of school choice.
It is beyond time that South Carolina families are supported in their desire to customize their children’s education. The status quo is no longer acceptable. For far too long, our state has fallen behind when it comes to educational opportunity but now — through an education savings account program — we have the chance to allow every single child the blessing of reaching their full potential.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Randan Steinhauser is a native of Blythewood, S.C. and a graduate of the University of South Carolina. She has worked in more than 30 states to advance educational freedom and currently serves as the National School Choice Director for Young Americans for Liberty.
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