DALLAS, January 25, 2014–Already having traveled half the country, The National School Choice Week Whistle Stop Tour official kick-off is today in Houston. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) will speak at rally at Minute Maid Park this afternoon.
The Whistle Stop Tour is part of NSCW’s public awareness campaign to promote school choice options from public school open enrollment, public charter and magnet schools, private school choice, online learning and home schooling. The campaign seeks to promote existing school choice programs and encourage those without programs available to them to push for them in their states and localities according to Andrew Campanella, president of NSCW.
“We’re trying to reach as many people as possible in a positive and uplifting way, educate parents that they do have choices, and encourage them to start exercising choices they have in January as opposed to waiting until the spring or summer when a lot of seats in schools will be filled up,” said Campanella.
In addition to the official tour by NSCW, there are 5,500 independently planned events being held the week of January 26 to February 1 by groups, schools, and individuals across the country. Mirroring the organization’s philosophy that true local control rests with individuals, those hosting events have free reign. “We see everything from rallies, to school fairs, round table discussions, happy hours, pizza parties, and movies nights in people’s homes,” Campanella said. “The goal is to encourage people at the local level to spread the word about school choice or the need for school choice in the best way that they can to reach their neighbors and friends.”
National School Choice Week is strictly a public awareness campaign and doesn’t promote specific legislation or policy. However, the individual organizations supporting the campaign may be supporting their own policy initiatives. The Texas Public Policy Foundation is one such NSCW supporter that also advocates school choice legislation. James Golan, the education policy analyst at TPPF, says their organization believes that education choices are a fundamental right of all parents and students. “Particularly in Texas, we think it’s very important to call attention to this issue because as far as private school choice is concerned, we don’t have any here,” he said.
In the 2013 Texas legislative session, two private school initiatives, a tax credit and an education scholarship for special needs, failed to make it out of the Texas Senate. There were public school choice improvements dealing with charter schools and digital learning laws, according to Golan. While it’s still too early to know what specific legislation might be submitted in 2015, Golan notes that there are historically at least one or two measures during each session.
“I personally would love to see something like the Arizona Education Savings Account pushed forward here because I think that’s a little more flexible than a traditional scholarship program,” Golan said. According to a brochure from the Arizona State Education Department, “The program’s main purpose is to provide options for parents to freely choose how and where to educate their children with financial assistance from the state.” Qualified families are given an account to be used for approved educational materials, private school tuition, and tutoring.
While polls show the majority of Americans support many school choice policies, such as charter schools and the right to home school, there is opposition to the initiatives. “There’s a lot of caution from the education community, they tend to be very cautious to the point of being opposed to school choice. You can also get a lot of worry from rural communities, because they fear the impact of a choice program on their very sparsely populated schools,” Golan said.
However Golan claims that these fears aren’t supported by the research. “It’s really frustrating because from their end it tends to be, ‘School choice is a push against public schools,’ when really the research doesn’t show that anywhere they’ve put in a private school choice program that it negatively impact the surrounding public schools. If anything it positively effects them.”
“It actually strengthens traditional public schools, it strengthens all schools. When schools have to work their hardest to make sure that students and their parents choose to attend those schools, they’re going to do things to improve,” Campanella said.
“If people within the public system think that everyone is going to flee their schools as a result of school choice, they need to do some serious soul searching, because it sounds like they don’t have confidence in what they’re doing.” Campanella added. “I think folks really need to have more confidence in our public system.”
Noting the differences in ideologies of the keynote speakers at the NSCW kick-off, Campanella said school choice is an issue that brings people of a variety of backgrounds and beliefs together. “We live in an incredibly divided country and we need something that can bring us together. This is an issue that can do that, and it can do that for the betterment of our future and for kids.”
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