School choice, education savings accounts help children reach full potential

By Archbishop Paul S. Coakley                   Feb. 21, 2016

“Our generation will show that it can rise to the promise found in each young person when we know how to give them space. This means that we have to create the material and spiritual conditions for their full development; to give them a solid basis on which to build their lives; to guarantee their safety and their education to be everything they can be."  – Pope Francis 

Education, as Pope Francis says above, provides the solid basis on which our children build their lives. It is the way we seek to ensure our children achieve their full selves – academically, professionally, morally and spiritually.

For that reason, the Catholic Church always has been involved in learning at all levels, from elementary schools to research universities. Those institutions provide individuals with a route to achieving the material and spiritual conditions required for their full development.

Catholic schools, of course, are not the only outlet for that development and growth. Many Catholics find fulfillment and a good education just as readily in public schools, non-faith based private schools, through home-schooling or even online virtual schools. Likewise, non-Catholics make use of all those options.

The key word is “options.” All children are different. Some have special needs or learning disabilities that are best addressed in customized learning settings. Some are geared toward technology-based, online learning. Others are best-served by the public school nearest them, and are happy with that option. 

Families, like children, also are different. For some, it is essential for faith to be incorporated in their child’s daily learning. For others, it is not.

That is why I long have been a supporter of school choice – the collective set of policies that give children and parents access to a variety of educational options, including charter schools, faith-based schools, private tutoring and other educational channels.

It also is why I am encouraging our legislators to support educational savings accounts, or ESAs.

ESAs give every qualifying parent a debit account that can be spent on educational expenses. The amount varies, but both ESA plans being considered in the state Legislature this year would provide parents with several thousand dollars. That account could be used to hire a tutor; enroll a child in online courses; and, of great importance to many Catholics and me, send a child to a faith-based private school. 

This plan does not require more state spending. Instead, it reallocates some of the several billion dollars in funding already going toward education in Oklahoma.

More importantly, it empowers parents to make good decisions on behalf of their children. It would lift some children out of desperate circumstances, and provide them with better educational options.

It allows for the next generation of Oklahomans to build a stronger, more solid foundation for themselves as they work to reach their full potential.