By SARAH NAGLE
The California public school system is currently sinking like the Titanic. A couple of decades ago California public schools were some of the best in the country. But those days are long gone. The last two years have been a wake up call for parents, and a disaster for children. In Sacramento when politicians talk about school choice, they are usually talking about money. But when parents talk about school choice, they are talking about something far more personal and far more important than tax dollars. Inherently, citizens understand that school choice is about giving kids and parents a choice, a voice and a future. The landmark Educational Freedom Act would bring true school choice to all K-12 students in the state who choose to opt in to the proposed program.
By any metric, our public education system is failing too many kids. Back in 2019, the National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that only 32% of California’s public school fourth graders were “proficient” readers. Overall, according to the California Reading Coalition, currently more than half the children enrolled in schools in over 300 public school districts can’t read at grade level. Parents have a legitimate fear that their children aren’t being adequately educated by the public K-12 system. Wealthy families are sending their kids to private schools in record numbers. Parents of every ethnicity, educational and economic background are exploring homeschooling. However, too many families simply don’t have the financial means to escape a system that is systemically failing their children.
The Educational Freedom Act is designed to give parents and kids the freedom to choose without costing Californians more money. Currently the state is spending an average of $21,152 per year for every child enrolled in the public K-12 school system. Considering that, according to “Private School Review,” the average cost of a private elementary school in the state of California is only about $14,411 per year, we are spending a shocking amount of money on a public system that can’t even guarantee most of the kids can read at grade level.
Sadly, most of the students currently enrolled in public schools in California have very few choices regarding where they can attend school. As a result, kids get trapped in failing schools and the parents end up footing the bill.
The Educational Freedom Act is designed to permit a portion of the Prop. 98 funding to follow the child to any accredited school in the state of California. Currently California public schools are funded through a combination of bonds, parcel taxes, donations, Federal Funds and Prop. 98 funding. As a result of Prop. 98, most public schools in California get most of their money based on student enrollment.
The Act treats all K-12 California students equally. An Educational Savings Account (“ESA”) will be established for each K-12 child in California on request. Each ESA will receive $14,000.00 per year. ESA funds can be used to pay for tuition at any accredited public, private or parochial school. Any unspent funds will accrue in a low-risk portfolio. Parents would never have direct access to the money. However, homeschool students can also enroll in an ESA and use ESA funds to pay for qualified educational expenses if they enroll in an accredited private school independent study program. Because funds can accrue, families would be able to save the extra money in their accounts for students to use at an accredited college or vocational school up until the student turns 30.
The Educational Freedom Act has the potential to offer practical, workable educational options to millions of California kids. Our current system just isn’t working. We need to offer the 6.6 million school aged kids in California more options. We need to offer families of the future a choice and a voice.
The California Attorney General’s Office has issued the official title and summary for the Educational Freedom Act Initiative. Signature gathering has already begun. Volunteers represent a cross section of Californians. Yesterday I met a math teacher who is enthusiastically volunteering to gather signatures for the initiative because he thinks layers of administrative bloat have distracted schools from the core mission of teaching kids. He thinks educational choice will re-focus schools on teaching. Parents are volunteering to gather signatures because they want schools that listen to the needs of families.
Grandparents are gathering signatures because they want their grandchildren to grow up in a world where we don’t accept failure as the new normal.
I’m volunteering to gather signatures for school choice because I was the beneficiary of school choice. I was a homeschool kid when homeschool kids were considered kind of kooky. The public perception of homeschool kids was that we were all the children of religious conservatives, or Angora goat raising hippies. The reality is that most of us were the children of parents desperate to give their kids the best education they could. And that is what every parent wants. That is what every volunteer wants. What every teacher, and grandparent and concerned citizen wants. We all want the kids to get the best education we can provide.
In order for the Educational Freedom Act to become a reality we need to gather 997,139 valid signatures to qualify for the November 2022 ballot. This means that in reality we need to gather 1.2 million signatures. We need your signature and eventually your vote. We’d love it if you would like to help volunteer. We have some money, we’ve had a few generous donations, but inherently this is a grassroots effort. We’re in this for the kids. We believe California kids and families deserve school choice.
For more information, we have a website californiaschoolchoice.org. There is a calendar of events on the website where you can find out how to sign the initiative. If you would like to help gather signatures or sign up to volunteer you can e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please help us make a difference.
— Sarah Nagle is senior advisor of Californians for School Choice.