GUEST COMMENTARY: Indiana poised to lead U.S. on school choice

2013-01-31T00:00:00Z 2013-10-20T18:25:11Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Indiana poised to lead U.S. on school choiceBy Todd Rokita nwitimes.com
January 31, 2013 12:00 am  • 

One of the great Indiana success stories of the past decade is what we’ve accomplished in the area of education reform. I am always proud to tell the story of our state’s success in Washington, D.C., and now, as I begin my service as chairman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, Indiana is poised to play a major role in shaping education reform at the national level.

This week, as we observe National School Choice Week, we have an opportunity to highlight Indiana’s accomplishments over the past decade and to show how we can serve as a model for the rest of the nation.

When it comes to school choice, our primary concern must begin and end with students, parents and local communities. All too often, however, Washington, D.C., has gotten this backward, focusing more on a top-down approach instead of a bottom-up one which would serve students better. The solution to this “Washington knows best” mentality is not more of the same – it’s more of what works.

Fortunately, in Indiana, we have many recent examples of what works. Our state has led the way with initiatives such as our highly successful public charter schools, which serve more than 26,000 students. One such school, Signature School in Evansville, was recently ranked as the top high school in the Midwest, and as one of the best high schools in the country by Newsweek.

We’ve also successfully launched the Choice Scholarship Program and Scholarship Tax Credit Program, two additional resources that give parents greater flexibility to determine what’s best for their children.

The next step is not simply to try to impose Indiana’s successes on the rest of the country. Different states will need unique solutions to serve their unique populations, and our goal must be to ensure that schools and local communities in every state have the opportunity to find the solutions that work best for them. One key way to do this is by allowing them to empower parents to select the school that best fits their children’s needs, as Indiana has done with initiatives like public school choice, charter schools and scholarships.

While there might be a role for the federal government in ensuring that transparent data on school quality is available to parents, quite simply, the federal government can often do best simply by getting out of the way. By reducing the scope of the federal education bureaucracy and eliminating red tape, we can give state and local school officials greater flexibility to tailor their resources to the students they serve.

With these reforms, we can encourage parents and local communities to take greater responsibility for their children’s education. Some parents will opt for charter schools, some will take advantage of opportunity scholarships, some will take advantage of public school choice options, some will choose to home school. The important thing is empowering parents to be involved, which will drive innovation, competition, and ultimately, school improvement that will ensure a better education and a better future for all students.

U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind., represents the 4th Congressional District. The opinions are the writer's.

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