Although it has been decades in coming, educational choice is breaking out all over America. Milton Friedman, in Capitalism and Freedom, kicked off the modern school choice debate in the 1960s by proposing educational vouchers.2 Parental choice in education involves a broad umbrella of plans, which enable parents to make choices about the education of their children. A Heritage Foundation review of parental choice programs throughout the states indicates that school choice or open enrollment legislation was introduced or pending in 28 states in 1995. 3
The choices parents and their children are making go beyond the selection of another school within the same district. Throughout the country, families are taking advantage of charter schools, voucher systems, tuition tax credit plans, and other innovations providing for public and private school choice alternatives to traditional government schools. Wisconsin and Ohio have instituted new choice options for some of their urban parents. Vermont, on the other hand, continues private and public school choice options for many of its rural citizens under a program started in 1869.4 In 1997 both Arizona and Minnesota approved educational tax credits. Arizona now allows a credit of up to $500 for donations to organizations that provide scholarships to private school students. The Minnesota plan allows families with incomes of $33,500 or less a $1,000 per child ($2,000 maximum per family) tax credit for tutoring, textbooks, transportation, computers, and instructional materials. Families with incomes of more than $33,500 receive a tax deduction (up to $2,500) for private school tuition as well as the expenses covered under the tax credit.
In Michigan, parents now have the option of sending their children to public school academies, also known as charter schools. In fact, 1996 could easily be designated the year of the charter school in Michigan. As 34 new charter schools opened their doors in Michigan in 1996, bringing the total number of public school academies to 78, a small segment of parents and school-aged children enjoyed increased educational options.