Millions of Americans will voice their support for educational opportunity during the fourth-annual National School Choice Week, which begins on Jan. 26. An unprecedented 5,500 events across all 50 states will be taking place between Jan. 26 and Feb. 1.
Andrew Campanella is the president of National School Choice Week, and said the events will be held within individual communities around the country.
"We're looking at everything from rallies to round-table discussions, movie screenings. People getting together in individual homes and community centers, and talking about making good choices for their children, the options they have. Families in Utah have a lot of options. They do have school choice," Campanella said.
School choice means parents deciding how their children are educated- through all forms of education.
"We're actually looking at everything- every option a parent could have. When you talk to an individual parent and ask them to define school choice, what they say is, 'Well, what kind of schools can I choose?'" Campanella said. "So, we focus on all options."
In Utah, all of the options are different than in other states.
"In Utah, there's open enrollment. You can switch between and among school districts, which is something that in some states you don't have that opportunity to do," Campanella said.
Education in Utah includes options such as private school, state-wide online schools, public charter and magnet schools, and homeschooling. However, Campanella said, one of the biggest challenges that exists in the system is finding all of the options.
"It can be complicated to find out all your options. You can check out our webpage (schoolchoiceweek.com) but really it takes some legwork. Parents should look into what their local districts offer, what charter schools are nearby, private school choices- there's the Carson-Smith program- statewide online schools (Utah virtual academy)," Campanella said.
Instead of lining up schools next to each other, Campanella suggests using this website.
For those students who need scholarships or additional help in paying for different schools if necessary, Campanella said there is no state-funded resource, since the voucher measure failed in 2007.
"In terms of publicly funded scholarship, the only one available is a program that is quite popular, and that's for students with special needs," Campanella said. "But there are private scholarships out there, so I would say parents, if you want to send your child to a private school, even though there's not a voucher or tax-credit program, look into private scholarship funds, ask about financial assistance to schools."
Choosing the best school for a child is often a very personal decision. Campanella said parents should decide what is most important for their family.
"I encourage parents to make a list of what their priorities are in a school. What's most important to you? Is it the academics, is it the qualifications of teachers, is it class sizes, is it the safety of the school, the location of the school," Campanella said.
The next step is to start visiting schools. Campanella said it's important for parents to like the culture of the school, the expectations of students and teachers, see what the staff is like and talk to their children.
"Talk to your own children and find out what their needs are," he said. "Sometimes they can tell us more than we can find out from others."
When it comes to Utah's options compared to those around the country, Campanella gave a letter grade: B. His organization has a comparison map, which you can find here.