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California takes a step back in school choice

Lucas Saunders and his parents never thought graduating high school was a possibility. Saunders struggled for years to sit still and learn in the classroom, but his entire life took a turn when he began attending an independent school in Vermont, catered to students who needed individual attention. Saunders experienced the life-changing effects of school choice and went to his state capital last week to convince the Vermont legislature to give more children this opportunity.

The school choice bug is creeping up into states across the country for a simple reason - it works.

More and more states are passing legislation to allow students and parents control over their education rather than arbitrary and disconnected state legislators.

Saunders' story highlights the success of their state voucher program. This form of school choice allows students to receive vouchers to attend schools outside their districting public school to attend to specific needs unique to the individual student.

Mississippi lawmakers advanced similar legislation this year to allocate more public money to provide students with the option to attend public school. Senate Education Committee Chairman Gray Tollison noted that this initiative would be a "drastic, disruptive change" to the states' education system but argues that this is necessary to empower students and improve performance.

Other forms of school choice, such as education savings accounts (ESA) have also gained traction in states across the country.

As the Heartland Institute's Teresa Mull explains, "ESAs grant parents access to the money allocated for their children's government school education to spend on approved alternatives such as private school tuition, homeschooling textbooks, learning therapies, and tutoring."

New Hampshire Senate Bill 193 would grant eligible families up to $3,500 per year to use of educational expenses for low income and special needs families. This comes after President Trump and Congress approved a provision in the recently passed tax bill that will give 50 million students across the U.S. a tax-free way to open an ESA for primary school or college.

Iowa is also following the school choice trend with their Senate bill to allow homeschooling families to utilize online courses to expand the rigor and learning opportunities for these students. As Shane Vander Hart of the Iowa based conservative publication Caffeinated Thoughts explains, "This program was designed to help high school students that had schedule conflicts with other classes they needed. It was also designed to allow local schools to provide courses or advanced subjects that otherwise would not be available."

School choice legislation across the country is playing an integral part in expanding opportunities and building more personalized curriculums for students who do not fit the traditional schooling model.

Foundation for Economic Freedom's Corey Iacono found in a 2015 report, school choice dramatically improves academic outcomes and saves taxpayers' money by eliminating waste. These programs also reduce racial segregation and benefit low-income students, as school completion rates increase by 15 to 20 percent while antiquated school districting laws stifle students' opportunities. Finally, they find that school choice does not harm public schools but improves their quality by introducing market competition.

Yet, still not every state is seeing the clear benefits of school choice legislation.

Following a tragic case in Riverside County in which two parents chained, malnourished, and clearly abused their 13 children, California legislators have decided to blame the fact that these kids were homeschooled. The "solution" to preventing this grotesque child abuse, lawmakers claim, is to force these children to attend school.

While attending school may have allowed the signs of abuse to appear to authorities sooner, there is no correlation between homeschooling and child abuse, so to remove the program following one case of clear parental abuse does a disservice to the children whom homeschooling benefits and ignores the real problem at hand.

As Jenna Ellis of the Washington Examiner reminds, "In published studies among such experts as the World Health Organization, the U.S. Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, the American Psychological Association, the Mayo Clinic, and others, none of these sources list homeschooling as a risk factor for child abuse and neglect. In other words, there is no evidence or data to even suggest that homeschooled children are being harmed or at risk of harm at a rate higher than children in other non-homeschooled and private schooling communities."

In fact, homeschooling has been proven to assist children achieve more and mitigate bullying, which plays an integral role in reducing symptoms of early age depression and anxiety.

By attacking homeschooling, California lawmakers are taking a step in an opposing direction than states across the country and harming the opportunities and well-being of students who need the benefits school choice can provide.

Lucas Saunders has received acceptance into all five colleges he applied to and will be studying to become a mechanical engineer. This is an opportunity that would never have been possible without Vermont's school choice initiatives. It is encouraging that states are adopting similar policies. All states must give students the chances they deserve.

Natalia Castro is a contributing editor at Americans for Limited Government.