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DEAL: School Choice Week highlights need for options

Nathan Deal

Nathan Deal

This is the time of year when parents of some students await midterm progress reports. Others await news whether their sons or daughters will earn admission to college. Underlying both of these common scenes is the desire of parents to ensure their child is getting an excellent education to compete in today’s world.

Even with significant reforms here in Georgia and across the country, there are still far too many students who attend schools that don’t meet their individual learning needs. Parents of these children have too few options, unless they strike it rich and can afford to move to a good neighborhood or can suddenly afford tuition at a coveted private school.

That’s why parents, grandparents, children, policy advocates and others are speaking up this week to celebrate National School Choice Week and highlighting the effectiveness of educational options for all children.

Fortunately, Georgia has served as home to an increasing number of charter schools in recent years. These schools are given greater flexibility in return for strong accountability for student academic success. By observing high-performing charter schools throughout Georgia, it’s clear these institutions promote competition, innovation and creativity while encouraging strong parental involvement. Our state has worked to provide significantly greater flexibility and local control to harness the power of parents, teachers and local school administrators who know their students the best. Georgia’s school choice options are paving the way for greater education opportunities that were previously untapped in our state.

The growth of school choice has been remarkable. Nationwide there are about 2.3 million students attending 6,000 charter schools in 42 states and the District of Columbia. More than 2.5 million students attend magnet schools, and 29 states offer full-time virtual schools. In the 2012-2013 school year, Georgia had 310 charter schools directly serving 43 school districts, with four charter schools serving students statewide. In 2012, Georgia voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state constitution to expand charter school options.

Still, too often, parental demand outstrips supply.

Parents who do obtain school choice often find they must compete in lotteries or stand in long lines with a slim chance of earning a seat for their child. That is not right. Offering children educational options is the morally responsible solution to those trapped in schools where they are simply not learning. When parents want a change, they should get it.

A better school should not be a privilege available only to the wealthy.

As we celebrate National School Choice Week, there will be 5,500 events in 50 states as parents, grandparents and others march, rally, attend town halls and host other events to raise awareness for educational opportunities. Likewise, I believe that there is no more forward looking or strategic place to invest than in our children, because they are the next generation of Georgia’s leaders.

Preparing them to start businesses, launch successful careers, bring creative ideas to life and pursue their dreams is a priority for me. It is an opportunity that I want for every student in Georgia, and increased parental educational choice is a critical way for our state to achieve this goal.

Nathan Deal is governor of Georgia.