Florida, Arizona and Indiana allow parents the greatest control over their children’s education while Alaska, Nebraska and North Dakota offer the least according to an index of parental empowerment created by the Center for Education Reform.
The Parent Power Index rates states’ empowerment of parents based on three factors: opportunity, innovation and policy environment.
Subcategories of the report include charter schools, choice programs, digital and personalized learning, constitutional issues and statewide leadership.
“Great schools come about when parents have power. Parent Power comes about when states give parents enough information and the discretion to exercise control over their children’s schooling,” the 2022 report states. CER has tracked parental power in education since 1999.
Florida ranked first in parental empowerment based partly on its school choice initiatives, which allow universities, in addition to school districts, to issue school charters and for making school and district grading easily accessible on its Department of Education website.
Last ranked North Dakota does not allow charter schools or school vouchers, and school performance assessments are difficult to find online, according to CER.
Delaware rose from 41st to 27th in 2022 in part because of its digital learning initiatives. CER reports that all students in the First State have high-speed internet access. Louisiana dropped five places to 20th.
CER awarded just four states an above-average grade for parental empowerment. Eighteen rated a grade of C or C- with the remainder rated from D or F.
Legislative, Legal Victories May Improve Rankings
Many of the criteria used to generate the CER parental empowerment rankings concern legal matters rather than policy choices. Recent and upcoming legislation and legal challenges will impact the degree of education discretion parents have in particular states.
Virginia legislators have pre-filed a series of bills for the upcoming legislative session that would increase parental choice in education. Lawmakers have proposed the creation of student success accounts using state education funds, which parents could draw on for education expenses including private-school tuition.
Other bills propose the creation of Education Savings Accounts that parents could use to pay for expenses such as uniforms and instructional materials at nonpublic schools. Lawmakers have also proposed an opt-out of required immunizations for any reason. Current Virginia law allows an opt-out only for religious reasons or certification by a doctor that the immunization poses a health risk to the student.
Virginia is currently rated 45th for parental choice by CER.
Texas lawmakers will consider two bills related to parental choice. One would create reimbursement accounts for parents who choose a private school for their children. The other would offer tax credits for contributions made to private school scholarship funds. Texas now ranks 21st on the CER index.
Tennessee’s 2019 law establishing Education Savings Accounts for parents in certain school districts took effect in November after being held by legal challenges for over two years. The law was upheld by the state Supreme Court after being ruled unconstitutional by two lower courts. Tennessee now ranks 17th on the CER power index.
An Arizona law expanding school choice through the creation of the Empowerment Scholarship Account Program took effect in October after surviving a legal challenge. The law removes restrictions for each student to receive $7,000 annually for educational purposes, including home schooling or private school tuition.
Challenges Persist Despite Increasing Demand
Forty-five states and the District of Columbia allow the creation of public charter schools, according to School Choice Week. Charter school attendance has at least doubled over the last decade.
All states allow home schooling. The number of households with school-age children who reported home schooling doubled between April and October 2021, during the height of the lockdowns.
Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have school voucher programs according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Despite recent gains, legal challenges to school choice persist. Three parents in North Carolina have sued a charter school over its school uniform policy. Charter Day School (CDS), a classical school associated with the Roger Bacon Academy, requires girls to wear a skirt at all times.
CDS founder Baker Mitchell responded to parent complaints saying that “boys should be required to dress differently to emphasize ‘chivalry,’ ‘a code of conduct where women are … regarded as a fragile vessel that men are supposed to take care of and honor,’ and ‘females are to be treated courteously and more gently than boys,’ ” according to court documents.
Parents filed a lawsuit against the school for discrimination under the equal protection clause of the Constitution, Title IX and CDS’s agreement with the North Carolina Board of Education that the school will abide by all constitutional mandates.
A U.S. District Court and Court of Appeals both sided with the parents. CDS appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has not yet stated whether it will hear the case.
Beyond the matter of school uniforms, the case holds implications for the degree to which public charter schools can implement policies that might be considered discriminatory in state-operated public schools. Charter schools are privately operated public schools. Unlike public district schools, children are not required to attend the charter school nearest them or any charter school at all.
In New Hampshire, the state’s Education Savings Account program, established in 2021 and funded by the state’s Education Trust Fund (ETF), is the target of a lawsuit alleging that the program violates a state law that enumerates possible uses of ETF and does not include funding private education or vouchers. The suit also alleges that the program violates the state’s constitution, which mandates that all proceeds from the state lottery, which are directed to the NFT, must be used for public school districts.
That lawsuit is pending.