Many states reluctant to embrace ESSA school choice options
- While a growing number of states are exploring school choice options such as tax-credit scholarships, education savings accounts and charter school expansion, an Education Week review of all Every Student Succeeds Act state accountability plans reveals that surprisingly few are taking advantage of the new opportunities for choice expansion offered through the law.
- States that tend to emphasize charters the most often are more likely to include choice options in their plans, while other states are including school choice elements in the school improvement section of their ESSA plan as a possible turnaround strategy.
- Researchers on the topic conclude that some of the reasons states are not including more school choice elements in their state ESSA plans are risk aversion, lack of imagination, fear of pushback, and lack of enough guidance on implementation from the U.S. Department of Education, which is approving the plans.
School choice is a touchy subject among some leaders in public education who view the topic as an implication that public schools are not performing adequately on their own. Others see school choice options as a threat because it means that education funds are being redirected out of traditional public school coffers.
While state lawmakers and state education leaders are required to look at the issue of education from a broader perspective with an eye to improving educational quality in the state as a whole, some of these negative perceptions of school choice can impact them in their decision-making process. This underlying sense of betrayal of traditional public schools may contribute to the reluctance of states to submit ESSA plans with stronger school choice components.
State leaders may also simply feel that they need to focus more time and money on improving traditional public education systems before redirecting funds to other options. Or some states may feel they are already doing enough to promote school choice options though other state initiatives. Though ESSA does offer more scope for school choice options, the intense scrutiny these plans are going under may also deter states from being the first to introduce a new element in their plans. As more states try out school choice strategies successfully and the scrutiny over plans relaxes, states may increasingly alter their plans in the future to reflect the new options.