A school bus
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For three years, I was a leader of the San Diego District Parent Advisory Committee, where I listened to feedback from concerned parents. Parents whose kids weren’t getting the proper attention in reading class. Parents whose kids fell behind once in math, got left behind and stayed there.

I’ve heard firsthand how parents think schools should be run to better help their children. But schools aren’t listening.

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Ideally, some change would come out of this committee. But for years, I’ve been disappointed with the results from public schools. Our district treated this state-mandated committee like a cardboard cutout. They haven’t tried to take it seriously.

I’ve tried to create real change through this process, and after many years, I’ve finally learned. The best way to give parents real power over school districts is to have the ability to take their money somewhere else.

That’s what we can do with school choice. To actually accomplish anything, and particularly to give low-income students real power, we need to allow them to take their money somewhere else. Working parents aren’t able to take off work at 2 p.m. to attend committee meetings, hoping that someone will listen seriously to their concerns, and make the needed changes.

These students deserve the same chance as students from high income families to be able to take their kids out of public school and find a better alternative. Families of every ethnicity, educational and economic background are exploring home schooling. Most can’t afford to escape a system that is systemically failing their children.

The California School Choice Initiative — the Educational Freedom Act — would change this. With the act, every student will receive $14,000 to spend on an accredited private or religious school of their choice. The average private elementary school tuition in California is $14,411 per year, according to Private School Review. While this is the average, there are many options that are even less than this, and families would be able to save the extra money in their accounts for the students to use at college or vocational schools up until the student turns 30.

Teachers will benefit from this, as well. Private sector schools often have class sizes that are a fraction of public schools, meaning that as kids migrate to these schools with smaller classes, more teachers will be needed. This increased demand for good teachers will result in better working conditions and compensation offers for teachers. 

My kids went to public schools. Public schools do work for a lot of people. But not everyone. That’s why everyone deserves the opportunity and the funding to choose where their kid goes to school.

The act treats all K-12 California students equally. An Educational Savings Account, or “ESA,” would be established for each K-12 child in California on request. Any unspent funds will accrue in a low-risk portfolio. Homeschool students can also have an ESA to pay for qualified educational expenses if they educate through an accredited private school independent study program.

I encourage my fellow Californians to please sign the School Choice Initiative petition to bring it to the ballot. Download the petition, print it, sign it, and mail it to the state so that we can change our children’s futures for the better.

Todd Maddison is the San Diego County chair of Californians for School Choice.