Parents shouldn’t have to plead for equal opportunity
The following was originally published by the Washington Examiner‘s magazine, Restoring America:
When I was a child, my mother wrote letters. While many children might remember their parents writing to family and friends, the most important letters my mother wrote were to people she didn’t know at all.
My parents wanted me to get an academically rigorous education that aligned with our family values. Even before I was born, they wanted to put me in a Christian school that would prepare me to attend and finish college — something neither of my parents had done.
But schools like that cost money, and there was no way my family could afford private education on our own. So my mother used to write letters to our Florida state representatives in search of some scholarship or program that would make my education possible.
Those letters ended up changing my life. I can only imagine her joy upon discovering the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship — a means-tested program that now serves more than 150,000 students. That scholarship gave my family school choice and made it possible for my younger siblings and me to attend the school our parents wanted. I am so grateful for that scholarship and the opportunities it provided. Thanks to the scholarship, I did indeed become the first in my family to graduate from college.
Many mothers and fathers are still looking for that opportunity for their families. Some have been looking for education options for a long time, and heinous pandemic school closures jolted others into action. Parents all over the country have realized that the status quo is not built to prioritize their children’s education.
Every student deserves an education that meets their individual learning needs, and that is impossible to accomplish in a one-size-fits-all system. School choice programs return education dollars to their rightful owners: families and students. Given financial firepower, families — especially low-income families — can access educational environments that would otherwise be impossible.
Many states are striving toward this goal. Arizona is a prime example. In early July, Arizona cemented itself as the national leader in school choice by expanding its Education Savings Account program to every child in the state. For families, ESAs are accounts worth $7,000 that can be used for tuition at an alternative school or other educational needs, such as tutoring, curriculum, or transportation. In Arizona, there’s no need for mothers to write letters.
But the same isn’t true throughout the rest of the country. Amazing progress has been made for school choice in the last two years, but many states still lack widespread educational options. As Americans keep dividing into battle lines over divisive education topics, states should realize the opportunity to empower parents through school choice. By breaking the power dynamics of the status quo, we can create a system that works for every family.
School choice changed my life, and I have the privilege to work every day to ensure it can change the lives of the next generation of students. My mother had to write letters and go searching to find what was available — for the next generation, let’s hope opportunity is available for everyone.
Nathan Cunneen is a communications associate at the American Federation for Children, a 2020 Future Leaders Fellow, and a school choice beneficiary from Florida.