Around our house, back to school is an exciting time of year as our three boys discover their new teachers, classmates and subjects they will pursue at their Forsyth County public schools. But for many students in Georgia, back to school is not welcome news.
JFK believed that “a child miseducated is a child lost.” Sadly many Georgia students are returning to classrooms where they are not challenged, where teachers aren’t maintaining order and where students are not learning. According to the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement one-third of Georgia students attended schools rated a D or F in 2016 – some 882 schools serving 576,000 students.
With similar challenges happening in public schools across the country, sports figures and celebrities are stepping up to draw attention to the problem – helping to open charter schools and specialized schools for low-income pupils. Just this month LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers opened his I Promise School in Ohio for academically-challenged students so they have an option other than the school assigned to them by their address.
As this new school year begins, it is time to re-evaluate whether we in Georgia will continue with a 19th Century education delivery model or start moving into the 21st Century and become more nimble in meeting the needs of every child in Georgia by radically expanding the few school choice options offered to parents.
Many pupils thrive in public schools and like my kids and will continue to do so. But if middle income and poor parents want other options they are stuck unless they can afford to pay twice – their local property taxes for public schools and private school tuition.
There are at least 15,000 students clamoring for a seat in one of Georgia’s less than 100 start-up, public charter schools or for one of the scarce tax credit scholarships available to attend a private school. There are more than 15,000 foster children in public schools– many removed from their parents due to the opioid crisis and need special attention to graduate.
And there are tens of thousands of other Georgia children who have issues from needing a smaller class size to a specialized curriculum, to a school with more strict discipline to kids who learn better online. All deserve a choice other than their assigned, neighborhood school.
Educational freedom is a bipartisan issue, and polls show parents support school choice just as they have other choices in raising their children including what pediatrician they may pick for their son or daughter. Not all may exercise that choice, but education is the only service in which parents are told they must conform to state and local government rules. The government doesn’t tell them which doctor to see when their child gets sick. It doesn’t tell them what to feed them. It doesn’t tell them what sports or after-school activities are permitted for their child. But it does tell them where they must send their kids to school.
It’s time to move Georgia forward with a flexible education model in which the dollars follow each child so he or she may choose the best for them. To make that happen we should dramatically expand our state’s tax credit scholarship program, give foster children and other challenged students other opportunities with scholarships and create an education savings account plan so parents can decide how their state education dollars should be spent – from online learning to tutoring to special needs therapy to tuition, for example.
We can continue to support our public schools and give parents options at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive.
I trust parents to make the best decision what school works best for their son or daughter as each child is unique, talented and full of potential. Our job as leaders is to provide them with boundless educational opportunities so that all our kids can find their path and none are lost.
Duncan, a former pitcher for Georgia Tech and the Florida Marlins organization and a small businessman from Cumming, is the GOP nominee for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. He and his wife Brooke send their three sons to Forsyth County public schools.