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Indiana is rated No. 1 for school choice

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Editorial, News Sentinel

And that gives students a better shot at a good education.

If you think school choice is important, be glad you’re a Hoosier. The Center for Education Reform now ranks Indiana No. 1 on the Parent Power Index, which means parents here have a better chance to choose just the right schools for their children than anywhere else in the nation.

The one big component of our choice movement is the state’s commitment to education vouchers, which allow low- and middle-income families to redirect tax dollars intended to support public schools to pay for private school tuition. Preliminary figures show that 29,438 children applied for vouchers here this year, making it the fastest-growing voucher program in the country.

But we also have a vigorous and tested charter school program, which lets approved public schools operate without some of the restrictions normally placed on tax-funded education. And we have more digital learning opportunities than most states, and a good record of teacher quality measures designed to improve the education students get in a traditional setting.

Choice is important for a variety of reasons, chief among them that it gives students a shot at escaping failing schools and gives those schools some competition and therefore an incentive to improve. The free enterprise system — “decentralized planning by everyone through a dynamic price system,” as the National Center for Policy Analysis puts it — is the best way to produce nearly everything, including education.

But as the NCPA notes, “we need school choice even if that is not true.” Because of the diversity of schoolchildren, there are really no “best practices” in education.

There are only “thematically best practices for subsets of children with similar learning styles, similar subject-specific ability levels or similar thematic interests.” The closer we get to universal school choice, the more likely it is “that children can easily end up in the specialized schooling option that works best for them.”

Yes, choice will do some harm to public education.There are always winners and loses when there is competition, but having to compete forces schools into an “improve it or lose it” mode. The education establishment has been among the most resistant to change of any institution in this country. Our children desperately need the innovation and experimentation choice will spur.