ADVANCES SCHOOL CHOICE
The most callused aspect of the current
education monopoly in Arkansas is that it willingly and deliberately forces
children--except those whose parents have wealth--to attend bad schools. And it
does so with financial resources taken from parents already struggling
financially and at the expense of their ability to choose a better school for
their sons and daughters.”
Policy Foundation report, September 1998
(June 2016) School choice gives students
the freedom to attend schools or obtain educational services that best fit
their individual and family needs. These
can include public, private or home-schools depending on the circumstance. School choice has advanced to a significant
degree since the Policy Foundation raised the issue in 1995. The citizenship of Arkansans has advanced
school choice, with foundations playing a key leadership role.
Mid-1990s Policy Climate
The mid-1990s policy climate in Arkansas
was largely hostile to school choice at the K-12 level.1 Options such as private schools existed for some
parents and guardians but state regulatory overreach in the 1980s was a recent
memory. The right of parents to
home-school was also questioned.
Charters are non-traditional public schools. They did not exist in Arkansas, though
congressional Republicans and the Clinton administration reached an accord on
the issue. The Policy Foundation was the
first Arkansas research organization to publish a study on charter schools.2 The first Arkansas charter
opened later in the decade, and state Department of Education records show 52
conversion and open-enrollment charters today.3
Early 21st Century: School Choice Breakthrough
The U.S. Supreme Court, in June 2002,
upheld the constitutionality of Cleveland, Ohio's school choice program in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris. The ruling removed the U.S. Constitution from
the legal arsenal of school choice opponents.4 The Policy Foundation hailed
the ruling in its media response.
The ruling made it possible for school
choice to advance in other states. Only
eight states had school choice programs at the turn of the century. That number increased to 30 by 2016.5 Last year, Arkansas became the 25th or
"tipping point" state to adopt school choice after the Succeed
Scholarship program was enacted.6 The program provides a voucher for up to 100
students to attend "a private school of choice."7 The program is available for students with
disabilities and the children of active-duty military.
Role Of Citizenship
School choice's advance in Arkansas did
not occur by accident. It occurred
because a small group of private individuals and foundations worked to advance
the idea that students deserve the
education that fits their needs.
The Policy Foundation is part of this
process8 but there are other groups
that have played key roles advancing school choice. One is the Arkansans for Education Reform
a group of business leaders committed to advancing accountability and
transparency within the K-12 education system.
The group's activities seek to advance "substantive reform to
improve educational outcomes for Arkansas children." The group has worked tirelessly and led on
charter schools, a school choice niche market.
Another is the Friedman Foundation for
Educational Choice, which has worked with the Foundation for 10 years to
educate citizens about school choice by staging an annual event in July for
parents, guardians and students. Dr. Milton Friedman (1912-2006) was the 1976
Nobel Economics Laureate. He advanced
school choice with his wife, Rose (1938-2009).
interested in the issue should contact the Policy Foundation.
1 Arkansas college and university students have
school choice. They can choose to attend
public or private schools.
2 "Arkansas' Weak Charter School Law:
Failing The Grade," by Allyson Tucker and Donna Watson (1996)
5 Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice,
6 "School Choice Reaches A Tipping
Point," National Review Online,
May 14, 2015
7 "Arkansas' First Private School Choice
Program" (Policy Foundation research memo) March 2015
8 The Policy Foundation has published research
memos on school choice for more than a decade.