Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

A Survey of Parental Rights and Responsibilities in School Choice Laws

Academic journal article AEI Paper & Studies

A Survey of Parental Rights and Responsibilities in School Choice Laws

Article excerpt

MAY 2016

Executive Summary

School choice is an important social movement. Between 1990 and 2015, lawmakers in 45 states and the District of Columbia enacted a range of public and private school choice laws to meet parents' demand for greater options. Lawmakers continued their support for school choice laws in 2016. For example, Maryland lawmakers enacted the first private school choice law for low-income families and students. In Washington state, the legislature approved a new charter school law to address deficiencies that led the state supreme court to conclude that the former law was unconstitutional in September 2015.

More choice laws are expected to come in 2016 and beyond. Why? To empower parents with new educational options for their children.

To gain a better understanding of how school choice laws address parents, I analyzed the number of times "parent" is mentioned in 102 choice laws: this includes 43 charter school laws, 25 voucher laws, 20 tax-credit laws, 9 tax-deduction laws, and 5 ESA laws. I then surveyed 20 laws--three to five per school choice category--to see how many times the term "parent" is mentioned and to determine how choice laws empower parents and how rights and responsibilities play out in the real world. Every time "parent" was mentioned in a law, I examined it in the context in which it was mentioned and categorized it into one of four categories: legal, window-dressing, rights, and responsibilities.

A reader might assume that the number of times "parent" is mentioned in a choice law alone signals its intention to empower parents with rights and responsibilities for their child's education. I found that this was not necessarily so. Results from an analysis of 20 school choice laws highlighted in this study indicate that they have fallen far short of what is necessary for creating schools that foster true parental empowerment. For example:

* More than 60 percent of "parent" mentions in four charter, voucher, and tax-credits laws highlighted in this study are not about rights and responsibilities.

* More than 70 percent of "parent" mentions in three tax-deduction and five ESA laws are not about rights and responsibilities.

* Parental rights appear more often in 4 charter and vouchers laws than in the remaining 12 choice laws.

* Parental responsibilities appear more frequently in 4 voucher and tax-credit laws than in the remaining 12 choice laws.

* Legal and window-dressing references serve as the norm in 20 choice laws.

After analyzing results from 20 choice laws in particular, and reviewing 82 other choice laws in general, I conclude that regrettably, existing choice laws demonstrate that parental rights and responsibilities in education statutes are little more than a dull roar.

Expanding and reforming choice laws in light of this research requires us to be mindful about bridging the gap between rights and responsibilities as we seek to empower parents. In fact, carefully crafted school choice policies must maintain a healthy number of "parent" mentions, but these mentions should be more than merely window-dressing. State legislatures and school reformers must also do more than sprinkle statutes with legal jargon and feel-good phrases related to parents. If states want school choice to truly work, they must have a critical eye for how laws treat parents, how they invite them into the lifelong process of a child's schooling, and how they call equal attention to both rights and responsibilities.

Parents are responsible for raising their children, yet they rely on the state to educate them. The tension of rights and responsibilities between parents and public education dates back to Plato. If government is responsible for creating education laws, what role should it play in overseeing how that education is delivered? What rights must be given to parents? In return, what should government, and society at large, expect from parents? …

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