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Unlocking Education Freedom: A Call for Real Choices

By: Jane Brady, Chair, A Better Delaware

This week we celebrate freedom. Freedom from the oversight of a King far away. Freedom of speech, religion and assembly, and the other freedoms protected in the bedrock of our nation, our Constitution.

But we can celebrate no such freedom in education.  There are restrictions on our freedoms in education, outdated and unnecessary, intruding restrictions.

Think about it. The government does not tell you where you have to get your car fixed, but they do tell you where you have to send your child to school. Imagine if the mechanic you were assigned didn’t have all the parts you needed and some were delayed, but eventually you leave the garage with a car that performs at 50%. Sadly, many of our kids graduating high school in Delaware are not performing in reading and math at even 50%.

And this is not a new situation. For at least a decade, the academic performance of Delaware students has been declining.  Are these students any more prepared for the long journey of their careers, their lives, than a car that is operating at 50%?  Clearly, the quality of the journey is compromised.

So, what are our options?  As a parent, an employer or a customer, we all have an interest in a confident community. A community in which everyone can realize their potential, give and contribute to the well-being of others and find personal satisfaction from their life.  A sound education provides the foundation to make those objectives a reality.

How can your child break free of this system that is not serving them well? Currently, there are a few options.  If you have the means, you can choose to send your child to a private or parochial school. If you have the time, energy and skill, you can home school your children.  If you are lucky, your child can be selected in a lottery and attend a charter school. And you can apply to get your child transferred to a different public school. SchoolchoiceDE.org has all the specifics.  Of course, the deadline to apply for the 2024-2025 school year expired on January 10, 2024, so if you want to choose a different public school through the current choice program, be sure to plan quite far ahead!

Are you satisfied with these choices? Probably not.  Do they really give you the freedom to assure your child gets the best education for them? Definitely not.

We at A Better Delaware believe that parents should have real choices about where to send their kids to school. And there is a way to provide choice – Opportunity Scholarships.  Although not currently available in Delaware, these scholarships are provided either by the State, directly to the student’s choice of school, or through donations to a scholarship fund by individuals and businesses who would receive a portion of the amount they donate as a credit against the taxes they owe the State.

Pennsylvania has such a program to which businesses can donate, and which provides, among other things, tens of millions of dollars to low- and middle-income families to attend the school of their choice.  The program is so popular, there is a waiting list to donate.

The sad reality is that there are nearly a dozen schools in Delaware with academic performance in the single digits. That means, out of 100 students, fewer than 10 can read or do math at grade level.  Yet, the Department of Education recently reported that the State spends an average of over $20,000 per public school student per year. Delaware is in the top 10 states in the nation in spending, and yet we are 4th from the bottom in student academic performance.

That is not acceptable. Clearly the current education system, with the alternatives currently available, is not working for the students of Delaware. They deserve better. Parents deserve the opportunity to provide a better education for their children. Delaware deserves a better prepared, work- ready community of educated young people.

We have tried to just spend more, repeatedly, and that is clearly not the answer. A new alternative, Opportunity Scholarships, is needed to give the children of Delaware their best chance at success, not only in school, but in life.

Jane Brady serves as Chair of A Better Delaware. She previously served as Attorney General of Delaware and as a Judge of the Delaware Superior Court.