When a child is sick or injured, parents have the option to choose the best pediatrician or specialist who can treat their son or daughter. There are few barriers to care as parents often search for a doctor who can customize treatment to meet their child’s needs.

But when a student has challenges in school, the options aren’t as easy. Work with the public school and what it has to offer or find an enormous amount of money for private school tuition.

That is why is there is a growing appetite among Georgia parents for more school choice options. They want to customize their child’s education and not be stuck with a one-size-fits-all model that doesn’t work for everyone.

This is National School Choice Week, and as lieutenant governor I have urged the legislature to meet the unmet demand for school choice.

My wife and I send our three boys to public schools. For my family and the vast majority of students, public schools work just fine. But in too many cases, children assigned to their neighborhood school are struggling — which means their futures are in jeopardy.

In these cases, the odds are these kids are more likely to drop out or barely get by.

Just a few examples:

♦ Students in foster care. Virtually every one of these students grew up in homes where there was abuse or neglect. They have behavioral problems and don’t perform well in school. A mere 18% ever earn a diploma on time with their peers.

♦ Children of military families. These students move an average six to nine times during childhood, according to the U.S. Department of Defense, which creates significant stress on their student achievement.

♦ Pupils at low-performing schools. In too many schools across our state, there are low-performing schools that have yet to turn around their academic outcomes. For example, there is Coosa Middle School in Floyd County where 52% of sixth-grade students read below grade level or Fain Elementary in Atlanta where 67.2% of third-graders read below grade level.

♦ Children in classrooms with discipline challenges. I repeatedly hear from parents who complain that their child attends school where they feel unsafe because teachers are not empowered to control unruly pupils. Not much learning can happen in these situations.

♦ Pupils who fall behind in large classrooms. For students who need a little bit more of one-on-one attention, a large classroom can be overwhelming. They would do much better if they could be in an atmosphere with more individualized attention.

It is because of cases likes these — and so many others — that parents tell me they want more educational options so they can tailor an education for their son or daughter.

There are 1.7 million public school students in Georgia, yet we have limited school choice programs for those who struggle in public schools.

We have a Georgia Special Needs Scholarship that awards 4,873 students with disabilities a scholarship to attend a private school.

We have 71 start-up charter schools in Georgia, yet there are 11,000 students on waiting lists for seats at these schools. Local boards of education still object to the creation of more of these tuition-free alternatives to neighborhood public schools.

And we have a Tax Credit Scholarship Program that provides about 13,895 scholarships a year for children to attend private schools. Those coveted scholarships are awarded to kids in need and there is a great demand for more.

I continue to urge state lawmakers to embrace additional options including a new form of school choice known as Education Savings Accounts which can be customized to a child’s educational needs.

The vast majority of parents will always want to send their child to their neighborhood school just as we do in Forsyth County. But that doesn’t mean we can’t open up more alternatives for the thousands of students across Georgia who need another choice. Their futures depend on it.

Geoff Duncan, a Republican from Cumming, is Georgia’s lieutenant governor.


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