Lessons from Virginia to California

Sacramento Union, January 28, 2009
Last week, the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, along with the Black Alliance for Education Options, released a new survey on parents’ views about educational choice. The survey was given to residents throughout Petersburg, Norfolk and Richmond, Va., but the results speak volumes to parents everywhere, especially California.

Nearly 100 percent of students at Petersburg High School are economically disadvantaged. Norfolk’s median household income is $15,779, yet overwhelmingly these parents are dissatisfied with public schools and support a variety of school-choice options including tax credits, disability scholarships and charter schools.

In July 2008, Virginia state Delegate Christopher Saxman, R-Staunton, backed a tax credit scholarship bill. This bill would allow for business and individuals to receive tax credits for contributions to public school foundations, which would then use the money for extracurricular activities and capital projects. It also includes foundations that give scholarships to eligible students to transfer from their district public school to another public or non-public school.

“Competition makes schools better. Look at higher education in Virginia. It’s diverse, accessible and affordable,” Saxman said. “Everyone supports choice in higher education, but not in K-12.”

Out of 2,200 respondents in the Parental Choice Survey, approximately 69 percent favored a tax credit law.

Parents also showed strong support for scholarships for students with disabilities. A scholarship of this type would allow the state to give families with disabled students a way to send their child to private schools without having to hire an attorney and take the school district to court—which saves public schools significant amounts in education costs and attorneys fees.

Gerard Robinson, president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, sponsor of the Parental Choice Survey, is very encouraged by the results, saying, “What I think we’re seeing is now a new generation whose focus is on educational excellence for their children,” regardless of income or race.

The BAEO survey makes it clear that educational choice should not be limited to affluent families.

Last year, a handful of California Assembly members did their part, too, by introducing a historic number of education choice bills.

The proposed measures included a bill introduced by Assemblyman Roger Niello, R-Fair Oaks, to free California schoolchildren from failing schools. Niello also has bills to let parents transfer their children from unsafe schools; provide parents of private and home-schooled children with tax credits; and let parents of special needs children choose another school if they wish without having to hire an attorney or jump through endless bureaucratic hoops.

While all of those bills were defeated along partisan lines in committee, a growing number of California legislators are recognizing parental choice in education as the path to excellence and a matter of basic civil rights.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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