School Choice Is Necessary To Improve Tennesseans’ Education

Friday, January 18, 2019

As a new legislative session gets underway, the General Assembly will be faced with a number of pressing challenges, but they also are presented with opportunities to implement effective solutions for Tennessee families. The start of the legislative session and first term for newly elected Governor Bill Lee coincides with National School Choice week. This is fitting because there is no more pressing challenge than improving our state’s education system so that every single child in Tennessee has access to a 21st century education that will prepare them for whatever path they choose, and no more clear solution than implementing a strong school choice program.

Under Governor Haslam, we saw vast improvements in our education system. He made education a priority for our state, which for too long had been overlooked. His commitment to improving education has paid tremendous dividends and set us on a better path.

Yet, much work remains for us as we fight to make sure that every child in Tennessee has access to a high quality education that prepares them with the life skills they will need. It’s time to get serious about education reform.  To continue doing the same things year after year isn’t working.  We need a paradigm shift, a new way of thinking, a new way of doing things.  It is time for bold reform.

We have heard promising indicators from Governor Bill Lee, who has expressed his commitment to educating the next generation by continuing the successful programs Governor Haslam implemented and looking for new opportunities to improve our education system. Our First Lady Maria Lee has hands on experience as a teacher, and together, they have made their commitment to our next generation clear. I wholeheartedly believe that Governor Lee will continue to lead our education system down the right path.

One of the most effective ways we can do that is through school choice programs, which can take a variety of different forms. School choice programs work not because they are a silver bullet, but because they engage parents beyond bake sales, book fairs, and backpack events. Parents should determine which educational route is best for their child. It is parents - not federal or state bureaucrats - who are best able to evaluate the needs and learning styles of their children.

At their root, school choice programs increase the education options available to a student - that includes everything from a traditional public school, to a public charter school, to a independent school, to virtual learning and homeschooling. One of the best ways to create that choice is through educational savings accounts (ESA).  ESA’s allow a family to redirect a portion of per pupil tax dollars to invest in their child’s education. This opens doors that would otherwise be closed for students permitting them to use these funds on everything from tutoring to tuition. Rather than one size fits all schooling, these accounts allow education to be customized for each student.

This National School Choice week, I encourage you to talk with those parents and children who would benefit from a greater choice. If you see the benefits of these programs,  write your legislators in the General Assembly and tell them that ESA’s are critically important to improving Tennessee’s education system for all of its students.

School choice programs have the potential to be transformational for Tennessee’s children.  Now is the time to turn that potential into opportunity for the next generation.

Don Holwerda
Former head of Chattanooga Christian School


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