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Commentary: Let’s let Maine parents decide how to spend on education

Every parent knows that a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting doesn’t work. Parenting methods that work for one child may not work for another child. Thankfully, there’s no shortage of data-driven resources to help parents navigate the ever-changing journey of parenthood. All too often we don’t see the same drive for improvement when it comes to children’s education. Why are parents still expected to accept a one-size-fits-all approach to their child’s education?

Answer: The US public school system is designed to benefit politically motivated bureaucrats, not parents, teachers, or students. In addition, parents are forced to pay taxes to fund public schools that may not meet their children’s special needs. And while children of higher-income parents may have options, children in lower-income households generally remain in the government school associated with their zip code.

Lately, parents have become aware of the rise of school closures, masks, vaccination requirements, and brighter curricula that are more concerned with shaping their students’ political views than ensuring solid understanding and readiness of the workforce. With Maine’s student test scores plummeting over the past three years, it’s never been clearer that a unified education actually suits very few.

There is a solution to this crisis that some states have already embraced: school choice. Rather than pouring taxpayer money into state schools for education, School Choice puts tuition money where it belongs: where it best serves students.

The gold standard for school choice is Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program, which allocates approximately $7,000 per student per year to that child’s education. Parents can choose how to spend the funds, be it private school tuition, home schooling curriculum or tutors. They can also leave it in the public school system if it works for them.

Parents, not unelected bureaucrats, know what is best for their children. Many parents would seek alternative school options if only they had the opportunity, and school choice through the Arizona program gives them that opportunity. A little closer to home, neighboring New Hampshire passed a school choice law in 2021, and hundreds of children and their families are now enjoying the opportunities it offers.

The US system of federalism allows us to witness what works and what doesn’t in the states. Maine students deserve the same freedom as those from Arizona and New Hampshire. A bill tabled last month would mean that in Maine, like in Arizona, parents could decide what type of education would best suit their child and fund it through a special account.

With universal eEducation Opportunity Accounts, public schools would continue to receive funding — even if some students’ parents sent their children elsewhere. And with an Arizona-style solution, all children would be allocated the same tax-deductible funds, regardless of their parents’ tax bracket or zip code.

Finally, there would be numerous opportunities for lower-income parents to access many of the same educational resources as wealthier parents. School choice would reduce the inequalities currently present in Maine’s education system — where families who can afford it often move to “better” school districts or enroll in private schools — and give all children the opportunity to receive a quality education receive.

School choice would break the educational monopoly held by public schools, which allows them to dominate the market without much incentive to improve services or reduce costs. And equal funding for students would show us which school options deserve parental support, allowing educators and administrators to innovate and give children the quality education they deserve.

There’s no better time than now to put Maine’s kids first by enforcing school choice and funding students instead of systems.

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