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Put students and families first by Kristina Eisenhower Special to the Democrat-Gazette | January 23, 2023 at 4:10 a.m.

National School Choice Week is recognized from Jan. 22-28 this year. For families, where their child will attend school may be the one of the biggest decisions they make.

As a child growing up in a rural suburb of Little Rock, my family's decision on where we lived revolved around the school district I would attend. Today, that doesn't have to be the case for families. School-choice options are now in place, and families can send their children to a variety of different schools or programs. One-size-fits-all has never been the solution for raising children, and education isn't one-size-fits-all either.

School choice is the program authorized by the Arkansas General Assembly in the Public School Choice Act of 2015, which allows parents to apply for their child's admission to participating school districts other than the school district in which the students reside. There are a variety of school-choice options available, from traditional schools, public charter schools, homeschooling, online schools, and learning centers.

Open enrollment allows students that meet a certain criteria to attend schools outside their district, whereas the voucher program allows students with disabilities or students in the foster-care system to receive funding to attend a non-public school. Arkansas also has a brand new tax-credit scholarship program that provides a tax credit to taxpayers who donate toward private-school scholarships.

It is imperative that parents are educated on the options that are available. Gov. Sarah Sanders has mentioned school vouchers. As this may seem great for many parents, it is important that parents are aware that children attending public schools are entitled to a free appropriate education. Any student who has received an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan is funded by the federal government, and public schools are held accountable for making sure that students' needs are met.

Private schools do not receive federal funds and are not required to provide a free appropriate education nor provide special-needs services to students who have disabilities, including dyslexia services.

Under Governor Sanders' executive order, she would like to ensure that "all graduates receiving a degree or alternate teacher training certificate from a state-approved educator preparation program in Spring 2027 and beyond have completed a one-year supervised residency alongside an experienced mentor teacher in a school setting." It is of utmost importance that all educators, no matter the setting, are highly qualified educators capable of implementing best practices, are held accountable for implementing a high-quality curriculum, and have an understanding of how brain development and research plays a key role in education and implementation of instruction.

Ultimately, school choice is about putting students and families first. Before choosing the education setting for your child, ask the important questions. What is the education background of the teachers? What services will be provided to my child? How will each setting best meet the learning needs of my child? School choice is about equity. No matter your economic status, race, or gender, parents can decide on an environment that is best for their child.

As a teacher, educator, and parent, I would like to suggest that our legislators and governor fund schools appropriately, value teachers' education through an increase in pay, and educate themselves on the importance of providing high-quality facilities and the accessibility to highly educated teachers in all education settings. Teacher shortage has been a hot topic in Arkansas. If we want to see high-quality educators flocking to the career field, we would need to see a competitive salary increase.

Ultimately, parents now have choices in the type of education their children receive. A child's address now doesn't have to fully determine the type of education that their child will receive, nor has to be the deciding factor on whether or not a family has to move to another location for a better education.

As a teacher in a public school system, it is easy for me to say that what I am doing and where I am teaching is the best choice for students; yet I have to step back and view the world from another perspective. Students and families want what is best for their child. They want an engaging classroom environment where their teachers love them, encourage them, and set high academic expectations.

School choice is not about defining whether a school is "good" or "bad." School choice is about finding the school that your child will thrive in, be loved, and that will meet the individual needs of your child.

Kristina Eisenhower of Cabot is a 15-year veteran teacher, small-business owner, and mother to three. She has served her district as a classroom teacher, math interventionist, dyslexia interventionist, and is currently serving her school district as an instructional coach in the PreK-4 elementary setting.

Print Headline: For school choice


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