I was honored to speak at Kentucky's 2023 National School Choice Week event in Frankfort this last Tuesday, January 24. This year we held a press conference highlighting the current status of school choice efforts in Kentucky. I was joined on the stage by EdChoice Kentucky President Andrew Vandiver and Mindy Crawford, director of the Providence School, a private, faith-based school serving students with special needs. You can read coverage of the event from Kentucky Today here.
Kentucky families were dealt a blow last month when the Kentucky Supreme Court, in a decision that contradicted the legal reasoning of numerous state courts and even the US Supreme Court, unanimously struck down the new Education Opportunities Account law. As Mr. Vandiver pointed out in his remarks at our press conference, every neighboring state around Kentucky now has at least one or more school choice policy programs that help give low- and middle-income families or families with special needs children additional education options.
However, the fight for education options will go on in Kentucky and advocates are motivated like never before. Below is the full text of my remarks:
I’m so pleased to be here today to celebrate National School Choice Week. Of course I am not speaking to you today on behalf of my employer, but I am here as a career educator of 25 years.
Education is my life’s passion, and I’ve been blessed to work in and visit so many schools over the two and half decades I’ve served students and their families as a teacher, principal, district administrator, and professor. Many of those schools have been outstanding, but one of the things I’ve learned, both as an educator and especially as the dad of my own school-aged children, is that no school, no matter how good, can be a perfect fit for every child. That’s why I believe every family, no matter their income or zip code, should have access to the same kinds of excellent school choice options, both public and private, that my own family enjoys. It's time for Kentucky to finally get with the program and join the many other states that are funding students, not systems.
And I’m not alone in feeling this way. Polling data has shown again and again that Kentucky families want more education options. Not only do they want more options, they are also exercising their choices whenever they can.
In a research report I conducted for EdChoice Kentucky last August, I reviewed public school enrollment data over a five-year period, from 2018 to 2022. What we found is that the number of Kentucky families choosing to homeschool or send their children to nonpublic schools has skyrocketed. Across Kentucky, the number of children being educated in nonpublic school settings has risen by more than 20,000, a percentage increase of 26 percent, to an all-time high of almost 100,000 students. Last school year alone, Kentucky nonpublic school participation increased by more than 8 percent.
When you consider that some undetermined number of families are also choosing to send their kids to a public school outside of their own district boundaries, these numbers make clear that there is a strong demand for school choice. But unfortunately far too many families are unable to exercise such options.
Many of my good friends in the education establishment are afraid to give families choices because they worry it will hurt public schools. But that has not been the case in states that have embraced educational choice.
As an example, Florida has one of the most robust school choice policy environments in the country, with more than one and a half million students - almost half of the state's entire student population - choosing to attend a school other than their assigned public school option. Far from harming public schools, Florida enjoys higher levels of public school student achievement than Kentucky. In fact, Florida’s public school students outpace Kentucky’s public school students academically across every demographic.
Just last weekend I was blessed to visit Cristo Rey Salesian High School in Tampa Florida, which serves 200 students – and more every day – all from low-income families who otherwise could never access the kind of robust, faith-based, college preparatory program offered by Cristo Rey – except for Florida’s school choice policies.
Kentucky’s students deserve the same opportunities as students in Florida and the many other states that provide some form of education choice. Kentucky is an outlier in systematically denying low and middle income children education options enjoyed by every affluent family.
But not for long. The demand is clear and Kentucky will not give up the fight to make sure every student and every family is empowered to find the learning environment that best meets their needs. Like so many other states, Kentucky will break down those establishment barriers and find a way to fund students, not systems. The day is coming and I relish being a part of the fight and the inevitable victory for education freedom.