Utah’s legislative session begins Jan. 28, and it is certain that there will be bills on the table addressing what Utahns consistently rank as a top priority: education.
At the heart of public education is the noble goal of ensuring that every child, regardless of circumstance or family means, receives an education. Historically, we achieved this goal by creating publicly funded, publicly run schools. But this isn’t the only or best way of providing universal access to quality education.
Half of states have enacted legislation giving families greater control over where their education dollars are spent. Utah’s Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship has been helping students with disabilities pay for schools that meet their needs since 2005. But we can do more. It’s time for Utah to acknowledge that every child has unique needs and to fund educational savings accounts for all students.
When I held my first son in my arms, the embodiment of hope and possibility, I felt that it was my sacred duty to help him reach his individual potential, whatever that would prove to be. I knew that tending to his education would be a key component of fulfilling that duty. So, years before he could hold a pencil, I began poring over books, hoping to find a way to offer him a better education than I had received.
My personal experience in public education was mixed. I had several teachers who cared deeply, inspired me and kindled in me a love of learning. But I also had classes where I was bored and unchallenged. I keenly felt my time being squandered and my inability to do anything about it made me feel trapped, even claustrophobic. And while I always received excellent grades, the more I learned on my own after graduation, the more I saw gaping holes in my knowledge base. I wanted better for my son.
I found and fell in love with classical education. Its orderly and thorough progression through history and science was a great match for our family. Utah’s core standards prevent any public or charter school from utilizing the classical model, so I homeschooled him. We moved at his pace, flying through math and patiently plodding through spelling where he struggled. Best of all, we never felt trapped. If my son didn’t thrive with a particular math or reading program, we dropped it and tried something new until we found what worked for him.
It is precisely this ability to drop what isn’t working and try something new that is lacking in our current public education model. Many satisfied parents and students can testify that public schools have worked for them. But other children are stuck in a system that isn’t meeting their needs or helping them thrive.4 comments on this story
Educational savings accounts solve this problem, giving parents the ability to create an education pathway tailored to their child’s unique talents and challenges. They can be used to pay for public school, private school, advanced courses, tutoring, curriculum, special needs services, or whatever combination of options fits best. With ESAs, no parent needs to feel like they and their child are trapped or without options.
Educational choice isn’t an indictment of public schools or teachers. It’s a recognition that a good education can take many forms and a centrally planned education system embodies only one. It’s an acknowledgement that parents who spend their lives in service of their children know how to help them thrive better than a school board. The best way to honor that truth is to empower parents to create an individualized education that helps each unique child become her best self.