We have more schooling options today than ever before. Magnet schools, international baccalaureate, private schools, home schools (with robust networks and resources) and every type of charter school you can imagine, from an arts and science focus to a classical approach to schools that cater specifically to LGBTQ students.
We have schools designed specifically to support students with disabilities or that provide an afro-centric curriculum. Some high schools partner with local colleges to allow kids to earn college credit in high school. Still others offer a heavy technology focus and let students follow a self-directed and individualized curriculum. It’s astounding when you look at the big picture of what is available.
Unfortunately, most of those options are still out of reach for most children who need them.
We still have way too many kids and families who feel stuck in their traditional school that they are assigned to based on their home address. We still have way too many students who aren’t getting the math and reading skills they’ll need to open doors in the future.
In a new series of essays by Opportunity America, a new Washington-based nonprofit promoting economic mobility, 50CAN President Derrell Bradford, makes a case for direct funding for families. It’s a lesson, he says, that the Covid-19 pandemic taught us.
Not only did the pandemic “expose long-standing, fundamental inequities and inefficacies hardwired into many of the systems that undergird the American experiment,” it also illuminated opportunities and spurred innovative approaches to education like learning cooperatives, learning pods and microschools.
“Children’s urgent educational needs and parental anxieties drove a willingness to experiment with change not seen since President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top,” he argues.
We should build on that.
The old idea of letting funding follow the student isn’t wrong, but it also isn’t enough. To make real and lasting change, Derrell says we need a “true marketplace where families can express their preference to shape the schools their children attend.” The only way to do that is to channel funding directly to families. Alongside that reform state and local leaders must also “preserve this bias toward the new and prevent a retreat toward the sclerosis of the pre-pandemic years,” create a market with new types of measurement and eliminate boundaries.
This vision is not only possible, it’s already happening to some degree in small pockets across the country.
Idaho’s “Strong Families, Strong Students” initiative sent $50 million in grants to families. Kansas produced bipartisan legislation also granting $50 million directly to families and Ohio and Nebraska have passed similar programs. Seems the so-called fly-over states are on to something.
The rest of the country needs to catch on so that we can open such a marketplace and give children and families the educational opportunities they need to thrive.