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ADVANCING EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES

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The notion of “school choice” is not a new one, but discussions around it are increasing in a new way. It seems to be that when a particular pattern or way of being is interrupted or disrupted, this creates a natural pause and cause for re-thinking the ‘status quo.’ This is the case with the education system in the United States in the present moment.

The traditional education system in the US (and around the world) was fully disrupted in 2019. Since that time, many new conversations and considerations have surfaced among educators, administrators, educational advocates, legislators, and parents. Rather than being able to maintain “school as usual,” this has been a time to question on a deeper level: what are the needs of the modern learner, what is the best way to deliver meaningful education opportunities to students in our day and age, is the traditional school model the most effective way of teaching and learning? For parents, the questioning is on a much more personal level: what truly is the best educational approach for my children?

As a result of this unique moment in history and the questions that it is bringing about related to education, conversations–and legislation–are on the rise. In fact, 2021 was considered a breakthrough year for educational freedom, with many new states and localities expanding school choice options for students. Simply put, educational freedom allows parents to choose the educational setting that best fits their student’s needs and values. On a practical level, educational freedom legislation allows parents to use state funding for private education, if they so choose. In other words, “the money follows the child” rather than tax money and allocated funds going directly to a system. 

Ohio currently offers five educational choice programs, but only 33 percent of Ohio students are eligible for one of them. The state legislature is now considering HB290, dubbed “the Backpack Bill,” which would significantly expand educational freedom in the state. This legislation is designed to provide all families with equitable access to the education of their choice. The overwhelming majority of parents–across party lines, socioeconomic status, and beyond–are in favor of increasing educational options. Yet, public schools have sued the State of Ohio claiming that scholarship programs funded by tax dollars are unconstitutional.  

This type of legislation has a direct impact on families who are currently part of the WC community, and those who hope to become a part of the WC community in the future. For example, if HB290 is passed, for students in Ohio who opt in to the program, the state will fund their Educational Savings Account with a scholarship amounting to $5500 for students in grades K-8 and $7500 for students in grades 9-12. Every K-12 student in Ohio would be eligible for this scholarship, without any income threshold for families in order to qualify.

If you would like to read or hear more about school choice and Ohio’s HB290, make sure to check out the blog post “New Conversations about Educational Freedom” and the podcast episode “Moving Toward Greater Educational Freedom.”

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