Alvarado: School choice the gateway to success

Published 6:03 pm Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Being the son of immigrants, I witnessed firsthand my parents’ sacrifice to provide our family a better life.

However, the one thing they always emphasized and taught me was a quality education is a key to success in this world.

With a good education, the American dream — equal opportunity, financial success and upward mobility regardless of the station of your birth — lies within the grasp of each of us.

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But, without a quality education, children run the risk of falling through the cracks and getting left behind in a rapidly-changing economy.

As we celebrate National School Choice Week, we should remember the ways school choice can provide a beacon of hope for the next generation.

In many cases, our current educational system doesn’t always provide opportunities for those who need them most — children of color and those from low-income families.

A look at Kentucky’s performance tells the tale. Even as our state as a whole lags behind national averages, Hispanic students lag behind their white counterparts on key subjects like eighth-grade math.

As the first Hispanic legislator in Kentucky, I believe all students can achieve anything they want to. They just need the right opportunity.

For low-income students, regardless of color, the status quo has not delivered good results. Eighth-grade Kentucky children eligible for free or reduced-price school lunches score 20 points lower than their peers in reading, and 23 points lower than their peers in math. More than two in five children (43 percent) from these low-income households cannot achieve even basic levels of achievement in math.

No parent should have to live with the knowledge their son or daughter remains trapped in a school that doesn’t meet their needs — but many face that reality every day.

School choice can provide them the hope they currently lack. By empowering parents with new educational options, school choice gives children a way forward and the chance to join the best curricular environment — one that will grow and cultivate their unique needs.

Putting students in an atmosphere where they can thrive motivates and encourages them to achieve and succeed.

School choice has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years because it delivers results. Literally millions of children across the country benefit from school choice initiatives each day. In fact, most studies suggest non-public school choice improves educational outcomes for children who use school choice scholarships and the students who remain in traditional public schools.

Kentucky has joined the school choice movement with several new programs. The Commonwealth allows open enrollment — children attending schools outside their traditional public school’s boundaries. We’ve passed a law allowing charter schools; which are publicly-funded schools that feature more flexibility and accountability and have proven results. We also have magnet programs designed to appeal to students with unique talents and interests.

In light of our performance on national tests, Kentucky could grow to become a leader in the national school choice movement.

We should join the 30 states that offer non-public school choice scholarships, programs that improve student performance, while saving taxpayers billions.

I have joined several of my fellow legislators in leading the fight to bring a Scholarship Tax Credit program to Kentucky. The Commonwealth should embrace this program and give parents control over their child’s education, providing them with access to an education that will best help their children.

At more than 24,000 events this week, students, parents and educators will gather to celebrate National School Choice Week.

In Kentucky, students and families gathered to rally in Madisonville Tuesday and will gather in Frankfort Thursday.

The rallies will allow all Kentuckians to say no more to education inequalities, and they will put us one step closer to bringing more school choice to Kentucky families because celebrating the successes of current programs brings the opportunity for more.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado (R-Winchester) represents the 28th State Senate District including Clark and Montgomery counties and the eastern portion of Fayette County.