For some, the school year has already begun. Across Michigan, children are (or will be) receiving instruction at traditional public schools, charter academies, non-public schools, cyber schools, and at home. Having variety in education is beneficial for families, allowing parents the opportunity to choose the type of learning that is best for their children.
In over half the states around the country, programs and credits help foster increased educational options for this purpose. For example, Nevada approved legislation in June creating Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), or accounts that parents can use to pay for education services and products for their children. Under the program, Nevada students that have been enrolled in public school for at least 100 days can receive 90 percent of dollars they would have collected from the state for public school, which can then be used for a variety of educational expenses. A few of these eligible expenses include distance learning programs, tutoring, textbooks, college saving, and private school tuition, among others. Students with disabilities or who live below the poverty line can receive 100 percent of the state funding.
While four other states have ESAs—Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee—Nevada’s program is the only one that offers the accounts to all public school families, rather than to a limited population of students.
A June survey suggests sixty-two percent of Americans support the creation of Education Savings Accounts (Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and Braun Research, Inc). As a program that gives parents flexibility, ESAs help children receive the tools to succeed academically, socially, and spiritually.
Unfortunately in Michigan, innovative approaches like Nevada’s ESA are not possible. While every state surrounding Michigan, from Pennsylvania to Iowa, allows for some type of school choice, strict constitutional language prohibits Michigan from approving tuition tax credits or deductions, opportunity programs, or scholarship programs for children to attend non-public schools. As Michigan prohibits choice options, it also lags behind its Midwest counterparts in test scores, restricts the ability of the governor and legislators to enact innovative education policies, and limits the ability of parents, as the primary educators of their children, to make decisions for their family.
Michigan’s child poverty rate is approximately 24 percent (American Community Survey, 2013). The clearest path out of poverty is an education, which is a foundational aspect to every child’s life. In July, Pope Francis said that education helps prepare individuals to answer the following questions: “What does this world need us for?” and “Where is your brother?” Michigan’s educational system must become more flexible to allow access to quality options for all students. These options must help them develop critical thinking, articulate their beliefs, and apply their knowledge to the world around them. Allowing families to find the best educational fit, or mix of educational options, for their children that accomplish these tasks should be a critical priority. Failure to do so will cause Michigan to fall further behind other states and become a road block to long term economic well-being for both individuals and the state.
Regardless of what type of school children attend, Michigan Catholic Conference will continue to call for policies that benefit all students, including educational choice options. As Michiganders anticipate the beginning of a new school year, all must be ever mindful of the need to be creative in how students are educated. They deserve the best the 21st century has for education, not policies from a bygone era.
The Word from Lansing is a regular column for Catholic news outlets. Through these columns, MCC outlines current advocacy issues of importance to the Conference and discusses the Catholic position and role in the political process. This publication complements the more regular updates provided by MCC’s Catholic Advocacy Network. Michigan Catholic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.