National School Choice Week: A Perspective for Church Folk

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What is National School Choice Week anyway?

National School Choice Week begins today. This celebration has grown tremendously, almost doubling year after year, over the past seven years since it began in 2011.

This week aims to recognize and support the creation of all forms of school options for parents from traditional public and public magnet to charter schools, online academies and homeschooling.

The idea that drives this weeklong celebration is parents know the needs of their children best and should have more than one kind of option of K-12 education that can uniquely fits their children’s needs.

The thought behind this week sounds noble. Of course, parents should have the right to choose which type of learning environment will help their kids succeed most, right?

But the idea of educational freedom for parents is not without controversy.

Case in point, just consider the kinds of political leaders who threw their support behind this week’s school choice events, and those who did not.

22 governors signed favorable proclamations declaring January 21-27 as National School Choice Week in their state. They include the governors of Utah, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Wyoming, Indiana, Wisconsin, Vermont, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Ohio, New Mexico, Kentucky, Illinois, Idaho, Florida, Arkansas, Arizona, Alabama, North Dakota, Maine, Iowa, and Colorado.

But of the 22 heads of state, only one was Democratic: Governor Hickenlooper from Colorado.

Where were the declarations from governors from other blue states like New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Montana, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and California?

Now, mind you, one reason that explains why governors did not publicly recognize this week may have had little to do with political ideology and more to do with logistics and timing. Maybe for these states, focusing on school choice was just not a high priority on the docket of the many other legislative duties that required their attention. Even a few Republican governors decided not to acknowledge National School Choice Week.

But, generally, school choice is endorsed much more fervently by conservatives than by liberals.

Much of the divide between the two camps rests not in the believe that all children should receive an adequate education – most agree on this – but rather, in the details of how to translate that shared vision into a reality. The rift is fueled by fundamental disagreements over who to trust to deliver education to kids – the government or private entities – and over how taxpayer dollars should be spent within the education system.

Unfortunately, the bickering, name-calling, and villanization that often occurs between both sides only serves to hurt the very group that they seek to help: the almost 74 million school children in this nation whose lives are affected by decision makers within their educational and political institutions.

Many politically-active bodies have weighed in on the issue of school choice.

For example, in California, teachers’ unions are staunchly opposed to educational choice options outside of the traditional public-school system and fights vehemently with their main educational nemesis: public charters. They also oppose other forms of school choice such as school vouchers and tax-credits to create scholarship funds.

Similarly, charter schools, represented by bodies like the California Charter Schools Association, have become equally involved in their own political battles to fight issues related to more funding and access to learning facilities.

More and more, even parents are throwing their hat into the politics game. They are creating their own unions to demand that the failing schools where their students attend do more to improve student achievement.

The Role of Churches and Church Folk

So which line do faith leaders fall under in the school choice debate?

Some faith leaders will feel compelled to do more than preach from the pulpit. They are closer in style to famous minister and social activist – Martin Luther King, who will be commemorated on the 50th anniversary of his passing this year.

But other Christian ministers feel that God has not called them to weigh in on social issues beyond giving its members Christian principles for living that will help them face those issues when they are confronted by them outside of the church’s four walls.

No, all churches cannot and will not take sides on complex social issues like education justice. They do not have to quibble over the politics, but they can and should acknowledge and uplift the people in their congregation and community who are on the frontline to improve school choices for parents – everyone from teachers in every type of school, to principals, to school janitors and maintenance staff.

They can also help make those choices better for families – regardless of the menu of options that currently exists in their neighborhoods.

Being a blessing to others is the call of the church. How far, faith organizations want to take their efforts, is of course, the decision of its leaders. But every church should see a responsibility to do something to improve the lives of the congregants and community.