Freedom, private enterprise, and opportunity; these are three common themes associated with the GOP. Unfortunately, when it comes to one of our nation’s most important long-term issues, our actions do not match our rhetoric.
Educational freedom should be a unifying theme among Republicans. Giving children and parents the freedom to choose the best educational setting for a student is what we should stand for, not against. Supporting private enterprise in competition with government for providing education services is uniquely conservative. And standing for equality of opportunity, not results, is usually what separates the Republicans from Democrats.
So why have we failed to truly embrace educational freedom and choice?
Four years ago Georgia created our first true “Educational Choice” program. The “Special Needs Scholarship” allows special needs students to use the state allocated educational resources in choosing the educational setting, public or private, best suited to their individual situation. The results have been nothing short of amazing.
According to a study performed by Dr. Ben Scafidi from Georgia College and State University, the ”Special Needs Scholarship” has resulted in remarkable satisfaction rates for parents and students who participate. When asked if they are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their new school of choice, parents responded with a 95% approval rating. This compares to a dismal 16% approval rating for their previous school. Test data from the Georgia Department of Education show the students using the “Special Needs Scholarship” are performing better than at their previous school. Among the students using the scholarship, 9 of 10 is now making yearly progress. There is no doubt the students given the freedom to choose are learning more.
What about costs? The conventional wisdom says the only way to improve education is to spend more. Wrong!
The average “Special Needs Scholarship” in Georgia is $6300. This compares to the average total education spending of $9400 per student. The savings are more than $3000 per student per year.
We have created a program of choice resulting in better educational results for less money. Republicans should champion this effort and seek to expand it to every child in Georgia.
So why don’t we? The simple answer is fear. Fear of upsetting those who do not want change.
As a party, we are better than this. Republicans took on the issue of ending slavery. Republicans took on the Soviet Empire. Republicans took on global Islamic terrorism. Surely we can stand for educational freedom.
The United States has fallen behind almost the entire industrialized world in k-12 education. We are spending more and getting less. The implications of this failure will shape our future like no other issue.
The battle of the next generation will be fought in the economic marketplace where intelligence rules the day. Our threat from China is far greater tied to debt and GDP growth than it is weapons and armies. We cannot win this war if they are out-producing us 7 to 1 in graduating engineers and scientists.
As the world of academia endlessly searches for an answer to our educational woes, we as Republicans should recognize the solution that solves almost every problem – freedom. As the “Special Needs Scholarship” here in Georgia proves, freedom works, just like it always has.