Tens of thousands of people in at least 36 states this week will participate in more than 140 events touting the virtues of school choice. It’s the first annual National School Choice Week, a collaboration of more than 150 school reform groups, schools, philanthropic foundations, and businesses. The Heartland Institute is a proud participant in the effort to highlight how empowering parents to choose the best schools for their children is essential reform.
I attended a kick-off event sponsored by KRLA 870 AM and Americans for Prosperity last Thursday at the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California, where about 800 people packed into a scale replica of the White House East Room to hear Dick Morris and radio talkshow host Hugh Hewitt discuss why 2011 may well be the year everything changes in school reform.
Why this year? Because, as Morris explained, 2011 will be the year states reckon with their yawning state budget deficits.
State governors and legislatures across the United States this year are facing up to a grim financial reality: More than $100 billion in federal education stimulus money is gone. Another bailout isn’t forthcoming, and voters have no great appetite for higher taxes. After years of pumping up school spending, real cuts are overdue.
Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Indiana are among the states considering bills either to establish or expand opportunity scholarship programs currently aimed at offering low-income parents or parents with disabled children the means to attend the school of their choice.
And 2011 could also be the year of reform because, as it turns out, school choice isn’t just the right thing to do for parents. It’s also one of the fiscally sanest things legislators and policymakers can do to save their states from financial ruin. How long before fiscal basket cases such as California and Illinois follow suit?