Picture this: a policy or stance that garners the backing of over 70% of Americans. It's a rare sight, isn't it? Yet, incredibly, there's a political issue that has managed to unite most of us.
Most Americans agree our children should receive the best education possible. According to a 2023 poll from RealClear Opinion Research, 71% of Americans support school choice. This support exists across party lines, with 80% of Republicans and 69% of Democrats hopping on the school choice bandwagon.
What is this idea that 71% of Americans support? It’s simple: all families should be able to choose the educational setting that best serves the unique needs of their unique children, regardless of socioeconomic status, zip code, or religion. True school choice allows funding to follow every student to the education setting that best enables them to thrive, whether it be a public, private, charter, virtual, or parochial school. School choice funds students, not systems.
Article 1, Section 23 of Wyoming’s Constitution states, “The right of the citizens to opportunities for education should have practical recognition. The legislature shall suitably encourage means and agencies calculated to advance the sciences and liberal arts.”
There is nothing more practical than empowering families to choose the best educational model for their children. School choice does just that, by directing funding (means) to its intended beneficiaries: the students. Be fair warned that the opposition usually twists other provisions of the constitution in embarrassingly desperate attempts to make school choice seem unconstitutional.
Last year, a bill I sponsored to fund students and not systems was killed when the Speaker of the House did not introduce it for debate. This was more or less admitted by the Speaker at the November Joint Education Committee meeting, so I don't say this with any political intentions.
Now, a renewed effort to pursue school choice has emerged from the Speaker himself via the Joint Education Committee– albeit a watered down version. This bill is a concerningly amended version of the bill I sponsored.
The speaker’s committee bill presents school choice not as the right of all families to choose the best educational settings for their children, but as a welfare program.
Under the Speaker’s plan, only those children below 250% of the Federal Poverty Line are eligible for school choice.
Additionally, his plan pushes an unprecedented expansion of government in the form of expanding the proposed school choice program to cover preschool.
School choice presents an opportunity to lower costs and reduce the property tax burden on Wyoming citizens while providing a world class education which every child deserves.
However, expanding the role of government to provide what amounts to free daycare and helps establish a Huxleyan birth to classroom fast track will potentially become an extreme cost to taxpayers.
All families should be able to choose the best educational setting for their unique children, regardless of socioeconomic status, zip code, or religion. The goal of school choice is not to attack public schools or prop up parochial ones. Nor is it the goal of school choice to grow government.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The goal of school choice is to empower families. No longer should the government dictate where your child attends school by funneling tax dollars into the nearest public school- unless, of course, that is the setting in which your child thrives!
If your child finds success in a different educational setting, you, the parent, should be able to send the funding along with your child. If our goal is to create an educated citizenry, it makes sense to support universal school choice.
I am glad the Speaker is willing to work with supporters of school choice. I am also glad we were able to have a conversation relating to an issue citizens care so much about on the Joint Education Committee.
It’s not common for the committee to hear from anyone other than lobbyists, but regarding school choice, the people of Wyoming showed up in support.
My fear is we are embedding a very unpopular concept into a very popular bill. Why can we only have school choice in this state if it comes in the form of a dissolvable coating to a poison pill?
Some legislators on the committee who have consistently fought for school choice voted against this bill for that reason. I voted for it because I believe we can solve the issues in the legislative process if the people speak out.
Truthfully, there was no right answer. In the coming session, the legislature will have the chance to decide if we will work on this bill, or start with a clean universal K-12 school choice bill. My call to action for you is to make sure your legislator knows where you stand.
Ocean Andrew represents House District 46 in Laramie