Choice Drives Quality in Education

School vouchers give families access to an education regardless of income or zip code.

Teachers committed to a career in the classroom can boost their lifetime earnings with a master’s degree.
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Bob Behning is a Republican representative from Indianapolis and chairman of the Education Committee.

A high-quality education system is imperative for the future of our country. Providing parents with the opportunity to choose the best environment for their children to learn and excel in is not a choice, it is a moral obligation. For the past two decades, I have fought for families to have a choice when it comes to their child's education.

Public schools serve the vast majority of students and are critical to the educational success of our nation. Educational choice doesn't diminish the role public schools play in preparing students for post-academic life. However, if a school – public or private – is not meeting a child's needs, then other options should be accessible. Typically they are, but at a cost.

In fact, they should be available to students regardless of income or zip code. The Choice Scholarship Program is a tool that allows parents additional options to make sure their children receive the education that fits their needs. Nationally, our educational system has fallen behind countries like China, South Korea, Finland, Singapore and Canada. This should serve as a wake-up call given the global dynamics of the 21st century marketplace. Are we doing enough to prepare American students for future success? Or, is a new model needed to restore gains in achievement and learning?

[Read Teresa Meredith: Voucher Schemes Don't Help Students]

When compared to 34 other industrialized countries, the U.S. ranked 14th in reading, 17th in science and 25th in math, according to scores from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment. I firmly believe that American students, parents and teachers should have all the resources available to them to be leading the way.

Choice programs and charter schools were designed to inject competition in education systems because competition produces innovation and advancement. I have heard from countless parents who use the Choice Scholarship Program and describe it as a godsend for their child. Their son or daughter may have been a victim of bullying or learned in a different way, or perhaps they needed a school that fit their special needs. Different schools offer different solutions. However, there are thousands of families who are still unable to access the best option for their children.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

Both, the Indiana Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court, have ruled that vouchers are constitutional. The Indiana Supreme Court unanimously found that vouchers do not violate the state's prohibition against public funding of religious institutions because parents and children are the primary beneficiaries. Just as a college student can use public funds to attend a private university, a K-12 student should be able to use public funds to attend a private school.

Currently, 255,000 students nationwide attend private schools of their parents' choice through a voucher or tax-credit program, in addition to 2.3 million students who are enrolled at public charter schools, according to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Indiana currently has 30,000 students in charter schools and approximately 9,400 students receiving vouchers.

Our goal is to have all schools achieve excellence. All children deserve to have the same opportunities to excel academically regardless of their family's financial circumstances. Indiana's program provides students from low- and middle-income environments additional options, so their academic needs can be met. The power of parents to choose and to be engaged in their children's education is critical to the long-term success of our state and country.