Yesterday, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) spoke at The Heritage Foundation as part of National School Choice Week and to mark the release of the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) Report Card on American Education. The report ranks America’s K-12 schools in terms of performance and progress over the past year, as well as reforms and education policies.
Senator DeMint says that in seeking to improve education, policymakers could take some lessons from the free market — a system that has served America well:
“We were the only country that was a bottom-up country, very decentralized and individualistic, while most other countries were kings and dictators and top-down. We are millions of people making their own decisions about what they want to do and what they value.”
We only need to look at the impact of consumer technologies like the iPad or iPhone to see how the free market results in “dynamic change” and “continuous improvement” in the products we buy. Yet, in a market as “foundational to freedom” as education, individual choices are severely limited, DeMint explained. Rather than this top-down model, the Senator believes that education could be more efficient and produce better results if individuals were empowered:
“America doesn’t work unless it works at the individual level, and it can’t work at the individual level unless we have the best education system in the world. And we can if we use the models that work in America that make us exceptional. And that is a decentralized model with individuals making their own decision about what they value.”
States like Arizona are doing just that, working to drive education decision-making down to the family level. In Arizona, parents of students with special needs can have 90 percent of the money the public school would have spent on their child deposited into an education savings account if they choose to remove their child from the public system. Parents can then spend that money on a range of education-related expenses, private school tuition, online learning, special education services, and even college savings. Education savings accounts are empowering Arizona parents to craft a customized education for their children.
Today the school choice movement is stronger than ever. As Senator DeMint noted:
“If we don’t assume that public education means government education, if we assume that public education means the best that America can give to every student in the country, if that’s how we think about education, we will have the best education in the world.”
Ryan McNulty is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm