While many Rhode Island students have adequately weathered the storm of school interruptions of this past year, some of the most vulnerable students have not. The current educational uncertainties, coupled with the ongoing pandemic, have created a dire situation for many urban families. Perhaps now is the time for large-scale, meaningful change in K-12 education.  Do you agree?

The current pandemic has served to magnify the need to expand meaningful school choice options. Parents have had to navigate an increasingly frustrating environment, with schools’ opening status often changing. Many families of modest means cannot work from home and have struggled to balance the need to provide for their children financially with educating and caring for their children while schools have moved to remote instruction.

Students deserve an array of high caliber options in education in Rhode Island.  Parents are eager for proven, viable choices for their children that provide quality education in a safe, nurturing environment. Increasing school choices, and allocating resources to choose an educational option, empower parents to pick the right educational option for their children.  What could be wrong with that?  Is that your situation?  If not, do you wish it could be?

 Without ample forms of school choice, Rhode Island students are summarily relegated to attend schools mandated by their home address or zip code.  In effect, the quality of education is directly linked to where the family resides. Students who reside in more affluent neighborhoods, or whose parents can afford to pay additionally for private education, receive the best education money can buy.  Conversely,  students who live in less affluent communities are not usually provided educational options.  Are these students left behind, both figuratively and literally?  Where is the justice in this?  

 News reports about failing school systems demonstrate the inequities parents have to face and cast a spotlight on the ever growing imperative for expanded school choice in Rhode Island. Let’s not focus on failing system results, rather, let’s focus on changing the way we provide education in this State.  Rather than increasingly fund failing systems, let’s provide parents with options to select the best program available for their children.  

Our Rhode Island students and families want and deserve more educational options and expanded school choice can provide those options. The State of Rhode Island does offer a very limited Education Corporate Tax Credit opportunity scholarship program, which allows selected families to attend the school of their choosing—but funding restrictions limit the program impact to a few hundred students per year.  Expanding this opportunity, as well as other forms of public and private school choice, would provide critically important hope to families trapped in failing schools.  Wouldn’t that be the right thing to do for all students and their families in 2021?

 In January, our nation recognizes and celebrates National School Choice Week which honors parental involvement in selecting the best educational options for their children. From January 24 through 30, a series of celebrations will shine a spotlight on the benefits school choice brings to American families.  Let’s collaborate in 2021 to empower all Rhode Island families to choose the best quality educational program that best suits their children, regardless of family income, address or any other family demographics.  Let’s work together to do what is right for all students in Rhode Island.  This current situation brought forward by the pandemic should motivate all of us to end the habit of mandated education by zip code and provide real educational options to students in Rhode Island. The time is ripe for school choice. 

Ed Bastia is a member of the board of Rhode Island Families for School Choice, a local non-profit whose mission is to expand educational opportunities for all students in Rhode Island, regardless of income or address.

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