School choice: Popular, but still a ways to go

I receive numerous emails from parents interested in learning more about the different educational options available for their children — from public schools and private schools to microschools and home education. Perhaps they are looking for a different learning environment for academic reasons. Perhaps school safety is a concern. Regardless of the reason, empowering families to access alternative educational paths that break the chains of convention is widely supported.

In fact, 74 percent of Minnesotans support giving parents the right to use the dollars designated for their child’s education to send their child to the public or private school that best serves their needs, according to American Experiment’s Thinking Minnesota Poll. Sixty-one percent of respondents who identified as Democrat also voiced support.

Thanks to new and expanded school choice programs in red, blue, and purple states, many families nationwide can now embrace autonomy in shaping their children’s learning journeys. Alabama has become the first state in 2024 to enact a school choice program — a universal education savings account (ESA) bill — and the Wyoming legislature has also passed an ESA bill.

The growth of educational freedom means that in over 30 states plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, families have access to publicly-created private school choice programs.

Unfortunately, Minnesota is not one of them yet, but could be.

While an ESA bill was introduced in the Senate in February, it so far isn’t scheduled for a hearing this session. The DFL-controlled legislature has not been friendly to such policy in the past, revealing a strong disconnect between what Minnesota voters support and what the state’s elected representatives prioritize.

A key influence is Education Minnesota, the state’s teacher union, who for decades has opposed important education reform efforts.

No monopoly wants competition, write Connor Boyack and Corey DeAngelis in Mediocrity: 40 Ways Government Schools are Failing Today’s Students. “The privileged position of the status quo is defended until the institution is forced to reform by external pressure.”

That pressure is already being applied, as families seek out a variety of learning settings. Unfortunately, though, without a policy shift, not every parent who wants a different educational option for their children can access it. (And this includes those who want a different public option, as well, as there is room for improvement with Minnesota’s open enrollment options.) We can’t expect education to be the great equalizer if socioeconomic factors or geographic factors determine who can access better outcomes for their children.

So, yes, Minnesotans support school choice, but until those in positions of power are held to making it a reality for all families, work remains.