Opinion: Michigan parents need school options

Beth DeShone and Ben DeGrow
Ferndale Upper Elementary School students Savanna Taylor (right) and Brianna Davisyoung  complete their classroom assignment at the Oak Park campus on Wednesday September 14, 2017. 
Max Ortiz/The Detroit News 2017

In education, “parent power” doesn’t just represent a slogan. Parent power provides a way to improve the educational system, by increasing accountability in every school and classroom. This National School Choice Week, we should celebrate the way in which educational choice has provided parents a powerful tool to partner with educators to change the lives of many Michigan children.

Most parents would stop at nothing to sacrifice for their children. But in years past, Michigan parents of modest means could do little but watch if their sons and daughters struggled in a program or school that didn’t meet their needs. Thankfully, the expansion of school choice has prevented a generation of parents from feeling that hopelessness, by giving them the power to select the educational option that works best for their children.

In Michigan, parents wanting a choice now have options. In most Michigan districts, parents can use Schools of Choice to select a conventional public school outside their neighborhood boundaries. Some parents might select charter schools, publicly funded programs that receive autonomy. Parents can choose selective magnet programs in specialized fields—like science or music—or free online classes. Parents can also homeschool their children, if they so choose. In addition, private schools are available, and many of those schools offer scholarships to help with tuition.

Parent power through school choice has worked for students like Ariel Aguilar. His mother, who immigrated to the United States and settled in Grand Rapids, worried when Ariel struggled with his elementary and middle school classes.

Thankfully, however, Ariel’s mom found Grand River Preparatory High School, a charter school with small class sizes. Ariel benefited from the school’s intense tutoring in English and math, which helped turn his education around. After excelling in the tough college prep curriculum—passing three rigorous Advanced Placement courses—Ariel graduated in 2017 and became the first in his family to attend college.

This National School Choice Week will feature many more examples of success like Ariel Aguilar. During School Choice Week, parents, teachers, educators, and students will participate in more than 40,000 events nationwide the week of Jan. 20-26. These events will feature millions of satisfied parents who exercised a choice on behalf of their young ones—and the smiling faces of children who benefited from those choices.

This year's highlight in Michigan will be at the state Capitol on Jan. 23, but with a different flair. Students representing a wide array of different educational options will show off the innovative forms their learning takes. Then they will gather with teachers, families and other supporters for a school choice celebration in the rotunda.

Empowering parents and educators, not bureaucrats, to make the best decisions on behalf of children helps deliver results. Ariel Aguilar would agree, and so would millions of other students with their own hopes and dreams. National School Choice Week provides an excellent time to celebrate those stories, and work to create more of them by extending the benefits of school choice—and parental empowerment—to every family in Michigan, and across the country.

Beth DeShone is Advocacy Director at the Great Lakes Education Project, a Lansing-based school choice advocacy organization.

Ben DeGrow is director of education policy for the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a Midland-based free market research organization.