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On Saturday, January 30, 2016, The Heartland Institute hosted a National School Choice Week forum. Speakers for the event included Joe Walsh, a former congressman and current radio personality on AM 560 The Answer; Illinois state Rep. Tom Morrison (R-Palatine); Heartland Senior Fellow Bruno Behrend; Sister Mary Paul McCaughey of the Archdiocese of Chicago, who has served as an elementary school teacher, high school teacher, secondary principal, and superintendent; and Michael McHugh, who for 35 years has worked as a homeschool program administrator, lecturer, and textbook author/editor for the Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
Over 50 people attended in person and another 200 watched a livestream of the event.
Behrend discussed the current state of school choice and where he thinks the movement is headed in the future. A major point Behrend reiterated is that someone will eventually create an app to disrupt the education cartel in a way that’s similar to how Uber has disrupted the Taxi cartel in cities across the country.
The Chicago Tribune reported on the event, highlighting Behrend’s four-word definition of education choice, “[f]und children, not districts.”
Morrison hosted the event. He also discussed school choice in Illinois and the difficulties reformers in the state have had trying to expand choice. Morrison says much of the problems are related to Republicans in Southern Illinois being too heavily influenced by teachers unions.
Sister Mary Paul McCaughey discussed the number of open seats currently available in Illinois’ Catholic Schools. She said there are 4,200 in Lake County alone and thousands more in Cook County and in surrounding counties. She talked about how school choice is not just about education; it’s about opening our hearts to others and meeting their needs as people. For McCaughey, it all comes down to the child: “We do believe that the money should follow that child to whatever is the best education for that young person.”
McHugh discussed the myriad educational options available in curriculum, online schools, individualizing education, and homeschooling. McHugh also discussed how Christian Liberty Academy has successfully built a network of homeschoolers, developed curriculum, and aided parents in individualizing their child’s education.
Walsh discussed how school choice needs to be a major theme in this year’s presidential race. He also stated Republicans should own the issue and go to the Southside of Chicago and other urban areas to talk about how choice would benefit their children. Walsh said, “If I were king of America, I would allow every parent in this country to decide where their child goes to school: public, private, religious or home.”
The effectiveness of school choice is straightforward. Behrend said it best, “We think that it’s a much more efficient system and more in tune with how people think, work, and benefit rather than one size fits all [education] that does not work as effectively as the money following the child.”