There’s one freedom that belongs at the very top of the list: the basic right of every child to a quality education, regardless of the economic environment in which that student lives.

That’s the bottom-line reason for my support of school choice, because it’s by exercising that choice that communities, teachers and parents – particularly parents – can exercise each student’s right to a quality education. It’s the way we say “stop, we’ll not stand by and see Ohio children trapped in low-performing schools, or a school that is not the best for that child.”

Let me tell you why school choice is so important for Ohio and the steps we’re taking to strengthen the way school choice can improve the quality of life in our state.

First and foremost, school choice empowers parents to take control of what is the best learning environment for their child. Our focus should be on what is best for each child, not on what is best for the adults involved. Every parent is given the right and responsibility to choose the best option for their child. Every child in Ohio deserves a fair start and we have an obligation to equip them with the knowledge, skills and attitudes they will need to compete for jobs and prosperity in a global society.

Quality schools shouldn’t be just for those who have money. We have to be sure they’re available – as a choice – for families and their children at every economic level, in every social setting across the state. That’s not happening now in every part of Ohio, so we must use school choice to address those inequities. Poor and lower-class families should have the ability to move students from schools that are not meeting their children’s needs.

School choice creates a more competitive environment, and a competitive environment spurs innovation and change, while it increases the performance of traditional, community and private schools. Challenged by competition, schools are encouraged to improve in order to attract and maintain students. This, in turn, increases the overall quality of the system by increasing the level of school accountability and the number of options for parents and students.

You need to know some of what we’ve been doing in Ohio to put some muscle behind all the good work that school choice can achieve:

• Educational Choice Scholarship Program, known as EdChoice, has been helping students from underperforming public schools to attend private schools.

• Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program provides scholarships to disabled students so they can attend a special education program of their choice.

• Autism Scholarship Program gives the parents of children with autism the choice to send those children to a special education program of their choice.

• Open Enrollment allows a student to choose to attend school tuition-free in a district other than the district where they live.

In addition, the new state budget bill takes action to:

• Expand EdChoice, so it will now offer children from low-income families the choice to attend a school other than their assigned public school for kindergarten.

• Allow children in families under 200 percent of the poverty line and entering kindergarten to be eligible for scholarships to private schools, regardless of the rating of their assigned public school. These students can continue to receive the scholarship, in some form, up until graduation, so long as their family income stays under 400 percent of the poverty line.

• Beginning in 2016, students will be able to get a scholarship if their assigned school receives low grades for its ability to improve the reading skills of its students.

By combining these with the innovations that are occurring as technology is incorporated into the learning process, we will find that the impact of what we’re doing for school choice is an important, fundamental shift in the way children learn in Ohio. Most important, it’s a historic change in the educational choices we give every Ohio family.

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