It's National School Choice Week ? the first of its kind. And now, thanks to Gov. Kasich making it official, it's also Ohio School Choice Week.
Close to 1,000 Ohioans have attended events across the state this week to celebrate.
This week's Cap City event brought together legislators from both parties, education reform leaders from across the state, school principals, public school board members, and skeptics. Featured panelists included Ohio Representative Matt Huffman; Ohio Senator Kris Jordan; School Choice Ohio Executive Director Chad Aldis; Terry Ryan of the Fordham Institute, and others.
Terry highlighted Dayton, Fordham's hometown, as a place where a large percentage of district students have exerted choice and attend area charters, which are performing better academically than their district counterpart schools. Referencing Fordham's on-the-ground work, ?Our experience in Dayton is not a panacea; it's a tool? (Hannah News Service; subscription required).
The discussion, which centered on new ways to expand school options for families while keeping high standards of quality and accountability, was encouraging as Ohio heads into a tough year financially and will have to think innovatively about how best to serve students across the state.
Speaker of the Ohio House, Bill Batchelder, kicked off the event by recounting fondly his role as primary sponsor of the legislation that created the Cleveland voucher in 1995, a program that now serves more than 5,000 students. Now, as we celebrate 15 years of the Cleveland voucher, he vowed ?I'm still at it? and praised Ohioans for recognizing that ?not every child learns in the same way.?
Batchelder's views about choice (as quoted by Hannah News Service ? subscription required), set a positive tone for the state as it heads into a new year fraught with challenges:
It is not only important, but a fundamental right that families are empowered to make the best decisions on the education their child receives, By allowing parents to make these important decisions, we can ensure that their child's best interests are always put first and not ignored by bureaucratic decision makers unaware of each child's individual needs.
Rep. Huffman came out strongly in favor of moving aggressively to expand school choice as broadly as possible, especially for low-income families. His ideas included sliding-scale, means-tested vouchers and the education savings accounts that were floated in Florida earlier this year. And Senator Jordan, who introduced a tax credit scholarship that would help low- and middle-income families, is set to re-introduce it during the new legislative session.
While it's good to hear state representatives and senators advocate for school choice, it's the personal stories that are perhaps most valuable. Shari Perkins, a Columbus mom whose two middle school sons use the EdChoice Scholarship to attend a private school, was the capstone speaker and shared her nail-biting experiences both with the Columbus City Schools lottery and the EdChoice Scholarship lottery.
For those of you who are interested, an event in Toledo will round out the week. School Choice Ohio is hosting a bus tour of Birmingham Elementary (an excellent-rated Toledo Public School), Toledo School for the Arts (an excellent-rated charter school), and Rosary Cathedral (a voucher-accepting private school).
Happy School Choice Week to all. Here in Ohio, it's a great foot to start out on as we head into a new year and new legislative cycle where lots of educational choice bills are likely to be introduced.
Guest blogger Sarah Pechan is the Director of Community Programs at School Choice Ohio.