Moments after President Donald Trump delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress two weeks ago, he was questioned about his top legislative priorities. President Trump replied: “I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school that is right for them.”
President Trump’s statement made me reflect on my personal experience in the public school system and my fortunate transition into private school. It was not until I reached my sophomore year in high school that I was able to attend private school, thanks only to my parents’ hard work and commitment to my educational achievement. Unlike the public schools I attended for most of my life, this private school required all students to wear a blazer and tie, arrive early for every class and demonstrate qualities of leadership at every opportunity. The school provided a number of class choices and extracurricular opportunities that were nonexistent at public school. Beyond the traditional math, English and science curriculum, I acquired a rich knowledge of the arts, world history and developed critical thinking and reasoning skills — all values that I still embody today.
If I asked you to identify what the number one goal of education should be, I suspect that your answer would be tailored to something of, “the educational advancement of students through rigorous scholastic standards that promote success in a variety of career facets.” Or, you might borrow a definition coined by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said that “intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”
Regardless of what you think the goal of education boils down to, my guess is that the vast majority of us believe that education should provide a curriculum tailored to enable students to achieve scholastic achievement and, in the process, discover, practice and harness their multidisciplinary talents and interests by which they can contribute to their careers. Many believe this is what Dr. Martin Luther King meant when he referenced character — the opportunity for students to develop a diverse set of values and skill sets that will last a lifetime. Ample access to school choice is a key requirement in that goal.
If only more of our California legislators felt the same. The 2015 annual report by the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution grades over 100 of the nation’s largest school districts on the extent to which each school district enables parents to have easily accessible and widely available access to publicly funded school choices. Its findings suggest that California may be having a “Groundhog Day in Education.” The report suggests that year after year, California school districts have failed to offer parents of the 6 million school children adequate school choice options.
California’s education rankings mirror those of many other states in our nation. In fact, the new administration is taking a front and center approach to combating the poor performance epidemic of our nation’s schools by implementing a host of sweeping reforms. Among the reforms noted by President Trump, the administration intends to implore tax-credit scholarships that enable corporations, small businesses and individuals to obtain tax credits for donations to third-party nonprofits. These third-party nonprofits then distribute the scholarship funds to qualified students in private schools, providing students who could not otherwise afford to attend the best private schools an opportunity to reach their full potential.
Contrary to the claim that traditional public schools best serve communities at every socioeconomic level, the Brookings report shows that alternatives to traditional public schools — private schools and charter schools — often drive policies that strengthen greater access to quality education for the wealthiest and socioeconomically deprived communities. Unfortunately, California is slowly seeing a decline in private school enrollment and very little growth in the number of charter schools. At the same time, a number of failing schools continue to receive government funding. You may be surprised to know that San Mateo County is home to California’s first charter school — the San Carlos Charter Learning Center. The San Carlos Charter Leaning Center is just one of many successful charter schools in San Mateo County.
Let us not forget that our state and nation is comprised of people of all nationalities, backgrounds and cultures. We ought to proudly embrace our differences while encouraging all to strive for excellence. The charter school model incentivizes such ideals. After all, these differences are reflected in our various ways of life, and should also be reflected in our education system — providing ample choices and opportunities for advancement in numerous career fields.
A native of Pacifica, Jonathan Madison worked as professional policy staff for the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Financial Services, from 2011-2013. Jonathan is an attorney at the Law Offices of McGlashan & Sarrail. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.