Tiffany Dunston is the epitome of an education opportunity success story.
She grew up in a poor neighborhood in Washington, D.C., and became motivated in her own educational journey after her cousin—who was going to be the first in the family to attend college—was fatally shot at the age of 17.
But after starting out in a public elementary school in Washington, D.C., Dunston had the chance to enroll in a charter school, and later received a scholarship through the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program to attend a private high school in the city, Archbishop Carroll High School.
Given the chance to attend schools she chose and that were the right fit for her made all the difference for Dunston. She graduated as the valedictorian of her high school class and went on to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry from Syracuse University. Dunston is now a postdoctoral fellow in oncology at Johns Hopkins University.
Access to charter schools and private schools—broadly referred to as school choice—has had life-changing impacts for students such as Dunston all across the country.
Charter schools, which are public schools of choice, meet the needs of millions of children across the country. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, more than 3.3 million students attend charter schools, and more than half of students who attend are black or Hispanic.
Nearly 60% of those children with the audacity to dream for a better tomorrow are from low-income families.
All students should have access to education options that are the right fit for them, and charter schools should be an available solution. So, why are special-interest groups fighting against opportunity in education?
Lance Izumi, senior director of the Pacific Research Institute’s Center for Education, warns that unions in Oakland, California; Los Angeles; and Chicago have called strikes to advance contract negotiations that push for new charter school moratoriums and the expansion of teachers unions in charter schools.
Amid a global pandemic, these special-interest groups have unabashedly stood as a barricade against virtual charter schools, which are meeting the needs of children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Legendary economist Thomas Sowell observed in his 2020 book “Charter Schools and Their Enemies” that “teachers unions have both financial resources and large memberships to sponsor political campaigns.”
“As such, they can secure the support of elected officials who need help funding their re-election campaigns,” Sowell wrote.
School choice promotes opportunity in America, something all students deserve.
More than 7,500 charter schools and campuses meet families’ needs every day, providing a safe and effective education. And they do so for a fraction of what is spent per pupil at traditional public schools.
“Our analysis shows that student cohorts in the charter sector made greater gains from 2005 to 2017 than did cohorts in the district sector,” Harvard’s Paul E. Peterson and M. Danish Shakeel wrote at Education Next, adding:
The difference in the trends in the two sectors amounts to nearly an additional half-year’s worth of learning. The biggest gains are for African Americans and for students of low socioeconomic status attending charter schools.
School choice programs across the country also provide education savings accounts, vouchers, and tax credit scholarships to students to attend private schools of choice. Those options have led to significant gains in student learning, along with other critical outcomes, such as improved student safety.
Ten out of 16 randomized control trial evaluations of the impact of private school choice on student academic achievement have found statistically significant positive effects for participants.
Rigorous evaluations of the impact of school choice also show improved student attainment (high school graduation and college enrollment), improved student safety, and positive effects on character development, such as increased political tolerance, charitable giving, crime reduction, and paternity-suit reduction.
In other words, private school choice not only elevates students’ academic outcomes, but enhances critical later life outcomes about which parents care deeply.
Policymakers should do everything in their power to ensure all children have education opportunity, including standing up to special-interest groups, such as teachers unions, when they stand in the way.
Without access to a charter school and later a private school through the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, Dunston’s life could have gone in a different direction.
Every child in America should have the same opportunity to exercise education choice to chart their own path.
States across the country can make that a reality by lifting caps on charter schools and expanding private school choice options, such as education savings accounts. The time to do so is now.
This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal.