For too long, K-12 education in our state has been a closed system that denies families access to options that ensure every child has an educational experience that meets his/her individual needs and unique learning styles. It’s a system that forces top-down mandates onto hardworking teachers, and overly relies on standardized tests and one-size-fits-all solutions.

Now, South Carolina stands on the verge of transforming that system to allow students to have a truly personalized education.

Education scholarship accounts (ESAs) would allow families to utilize their child’s state education funding to pay for a variety of services. If a child needed tutoring, specialized courses, educational therapies, or access to a new school, ESAs would empower families to make those decisions.

Opinion: Why education scholarship accounts would not work in South Carolina

That’s why 75% of South Carolinians have said they support ESAs.

We know parents feel a tremendous amount of anxiety and concern about ensuring their children have the best possible education. I know firsthand – my husband and I struggled to find a school that served our oldest daughter.

We were living in Clemson at the time, and while we loved our community, we soon realized the schools closest to us were not best suited to serve her unique abilities.  So, we did something we never thought we would have to do – we moved to a new school zone, because we want the best for our daughter.

Initially, we found a school that worked for her. But things changed once the district decided the school she was attending would no longer offer the program our daughter needed.

Once again, my husband and I felt that unease in the pits of our stomachs, the gripping weight of concern for our daughter, as we embarked on a search for a new school.

If we’d had an ESA, we could have stayed in the community we loved and found ways to customize her education.

This isn’t just my story. It’s a story parents struggle with every day, every year, affecting thousands of kids throughout our state. That’s why I’m committed to (working to make) ESAs a reality in South Carolina.

Ensuring your child has access to an education that meets his/her individual needs shouldn’t be a gut-ripping experience. Families shouldn’t have to choose between moving or keeping their child in a school that does not meet their needs.

We are a state and a nation that celebrates diversity. But our state’s education system is a one-size-fits-all model that tries to teach every kid at the same pace, with the same material, as if they’re all identical.

Some critics of educational freedom acknowledge many of the problems facing our state’s schools. They note that our laws make it “almost impossible” for principals to take other steps to give our kids the education they deserve.

That’s a tragedy. If these laws are denying students a quality education, they must change. Throwing up our hands won’t make things better. Neither will trapping kids in schools that aren’t helping them unlock their potential.

It’s time to re-examine an educational model that hasn’t been updated in decades.

We shouldn’t be trying to do a better job of slotting our kids into a standardized process that ranks and sorts them. We know there’s potential in every child, and we should look for innovative solutions that empower families to unlock that potential.

Updating our approach means rejecting the idea that education is a zero-sum game — where some children must lose so others can win. We can’t pit one group of students against another. Allowing students to receive an education best suited to their needs enables all to thrive.

We don’t expect every child to receive the same gifts, all wrapped the same way. We need to empower teachers and families to work together to find the environment that best suits each child. The legislation being considered by the South Carolina State Senate is a step toward achieving that.

Candace Carroll is director of grassroots operations for Americans for Prosperity-South Carolina.

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