COLUMN: Choice leads to child-centered education

  • Posted: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 11:44 p.m.
Bill Taylor
Bill Taylor

In the S.C. House of Representatives we deal with a lot of issues. None are more important to families than education.

When it comes to taxes, budgets and new government programs, the bottom line for most families is how it will affect their children’s education. South Carolinians put high value on quality education. Nationally, our colleges and universities are the envy of the rest of the world, and most parents I know are eager for their children to have easy access to them.

In Aiken, outstanding higher education is offered by USC Aiken and Aiken Tech. Through programs like the HOPE and LIFE scholarships, we give as many students as possible access to those institutions. Every year, thousands of South Carolina students are able to take advantage of the choices made available through HOPE and LIFE scholarships. These students could choose the best school for their learning needs; either public or private, either four year or two.

Choice doesn’t stop there. For decades, our veterans have enjoyed the liberties of school choice through the GI Bill; they spend their government benefit at the school of their choice.

South Carolina’s ABC program provides scholarships for low-income children in rural areas to attend pre-kindergarten. Again, it is the decision of the family to choose a participating public or private school that is the best fit for that specific young child.

This makes our one-size-fits-all approach to grades K-12 an anomaly. While school choice has proved academically effective and financially efficient before and after these years, it is an asset that remains untapped at the elementary, middle and high school levels in our state.

There is much to celebrate this week during National School Choice Week. The status quo is being challenged and public education transformation is sweeping across the nation. Nineteen states now offer families some type of school choice. This means empowering choices to make decisions and encouraging them to get involved in their children’s education. Both Georgia and North Carolina have successful and popular choice programs that continue to grow each year.

In South Carolina, school choice legislation has been introduced in the Senate with a similar bill to be introduced in the House.

It is a modest school choice initiative providing for scholarships to economically disadvantaged families. Similar legislation passed the House last year.

School choice works because parents are the ultimate accountability point. No one knows a child better than parents.

A parent might know their child is in a state designated “failing” school, but without the ability to easily move somewhere else, or pay private school tuition, they can do nothing about it.

Instead of holding families captive to district zoning, school choice gives parents the power to leave a school that is not compatible with the needs of their child.

Talking about “high standards” means nothing if parents can’t act on the information from report cards and test results.

The Aiken County School District is well rated. While we are proud of that, we know there is always room for improvement and even the “best” school isn’t always the “right” school for each individual child. When parents can make real choice among different schools, all schools perform better.

School choice works in our college system, it works in other states and it will work in South Carolina. I am committed to helping hard-working families provide their children with a quality education. When it comes down to protecting an monolithic education system (just because that’s the way “we’ve always done it”), or providing struggling families across the state with access to real education opportunity families are going to get my support every time.

School choice is about giving every child the opportunity to be their best. It’s about putting kids first, not politics. This is not a partisan issue, it’s an American issue.

The revolution to change public education is picking up speed in both blue states and red states.

Republicans and Democrats are standing together calling for a shake-up in complacency to bring about student-centered education by giving parents the choice to do what is best for their child.

Rep. Bill Taylor (R-Aiken) represents House District 86. He is 1st vice chairman of the S.C. House Education & Public Works Committee.

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