A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Ralph Alvarado: It’s time for lawmakers to embrace school choice for the benefit of all Kentucky students

The classic movie Field of Dreams popularized the slogan: “If you build it, they will come.” That motto certainly applies to school choice nationwide, which has grown immensely over the past three decades. While Kentucky has yet to enact a school choice program, the movement for increased opportunity in the Bluegrass State is on the rise. This National School Choice Week, we should celebrate the way in which a robust school choice movement has improved educational options for millions of American children.

School choice recognizes that no two children are alike. Understanding that each child has his or her distinct skills and learning styles, it empowers those who know them best—their parents—to select the quality educational option that meets their needs.

In Kentucky, some parents can select open enrollment, in which students attend public schools outside their assigned neighborhood school. Families can choose selective magnet programs, which offer intensive instruction in a given curricular area, like science or the arts. Families can also choose online learning options or homeschool their children.

However, more school choice options also exist—if only our state will embrace them. Eighteen states have developed Scholarship Tax Credit programs, which provide assistance to families of modest means for approved educational expenses, which can include private school tuition. This gives families access to a wider selection of options as they decide what school is best for their child. And in recent years, several states have created Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs), an innovative model that puts parents in control of their student’s education dollars.

Critics of school choice claim that it undermines traditional public schools, but the facts indicate otherwise. Of 33 studies that compared the performance of choice program recipients with those students who remained in public schools, all but two found that private school choice improved the educational outcomes of public school students. In other words, the customization and innovation that school choice brings improves ALL schools’ outcomes.

School choice also saves taxpayers money. Recent examinations of school choice programs in numerous states concluded that they saved taxpayers an average of $3,100 per student, or at least $4.9 billion. Providing more personalized options for children while also saving taxpayer funds represents a true “win-win” solution.

From humble roots in Milwaukee in 1990, the growth of the modern school choice movement across the country demonstrates the power of this idea on parents and the educational system. In three short decades, millions of American children have benefited from school choice. The 50,000 events comprising National School Choice Week, from January 26 to February 1, celebrate these students’ achievements, and the power of school choice to change children’s lives.

In Kentucky, our own school choice community has grown by leaps and bounds. From one National School Choice Week event in Frankfort, we now hold two regional events, which people plan and look forward to for months. I have seen how the crowds have grown year after year at our events, showing the thirst that Kentucky families have for quality educational options.

I know that this year’s National School Choice Week event will be our best yet—until next year. This continued growth and energy illustrates the power of school choice. Here’s hoping policymakers will take heed of our flourishing movement and redouble their efforts to expand school choice in Kentucky to every parent and family.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado is a physician, a father, and the first Hispanic person elected to the Kentucky General Assembly.

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  1. William Taylor says:

    This from the man who, up until recently, had only one interest in the State Senate. Promoting issues that he would personally benefit from, via his ownership of several nursing homes, has proven to be a lucrative focus for him. Given his past one has to wonder what benefit he will receive if this issue would come to pass?

  2. Mark Nolan says:

    Mr. Alverado should stick ti fleecing old people and not destroy our public school system too.

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