Weekly Columns

Choices in Education

Jan 24 2014

The first public office I was elected to was a seat on the Rogers School Board. During my two terms serving on the board, I saw firsthand the amazing efforts our educators put in to molding our youth.

Teachers and administrators have a tough job, but it’s truly rewarding work. Their efforts are critically important to our communities. Education is the foundation for an individual’s professional success and future economic productivity. 

The key to creating an environment where we can build a brighter future for our children can be found in every one of our communities. That’s why education decisions need to be made by parents, teachers, and community leaders at the state and local level—not Washington. State and local governments make education decisions that are best for their communities and curriculum decisions should be left to parents, teachers, and community leaders. Allowing the Department of Education to impose a one-size-fits-all definition of education on institutions across the nation is not the answer. Nor should Washington pile a bunch of unfunded mandates on our school districts. I’m working with my colleagues on the Labor, HHS, Education Appropriations Subcommittee to return education decisions to the state and local levels and end these unfunded mandates.

Specifically, Washington should not have a say in where we send our children to school. My wife Cathy and I made the decision to send our three daughters to public schools. Like most parents, we were engaged with their progress the entire time they were in school. In fact, my tenure on the Rogers School Board overlapped with their time in the school system. Both Cathy and I can remember the long hours helping with homework and extra-curricular activities like 4-H and cheerleading. 

However, the local public school is not always the best decision for each family. To that end, I’m supportive of school choice to allow parents to determine where their children get educated. Whether public school, private school, charter school or at home, parents need to be empowered to choose the best educational option for their children.

The final week of January marks National School Choice Week which features thousands of unique events and activities across the country to highlight the need to increase options for children, instead of limiting them.

We have taken steps in the right direction in Arkansas. Parents have the ability to send their children to different public schools, regardless of their ZIP code or school district. Charter schools, such as the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) in Helena, are opening in the state and, in many cases, exceeding the standards set for them. Along with public charter schools, we also have public magnet schools—focused around a specific theme such as math, science or the arts. And Arkansas offers parents the ability to educate children in the home, a direction a growing number of families in the state and across the country are taking.    

I recognize that when it comes to schooling, we have only one chance to get the job done right. Allowing the freedom to choose between educational options for children is one way we can help parents make the best decision for their children’s futures.