Report: Indiana Best, Montana Worst in School Choice

Published September 23, 2015

The Center for Education Reform (CER) released its 2015 Parent Power Index in August, and the results show a significant disparity in parental empowerment among states.

According to the report, Indiana ranked best in parental empowerment and school choice, while Montana finished last.

CER President Kara Kerwin says the Parent Power Index ranks several variables, including strength of charter school laws, school choice, online learning, teacher quality, and transparency in education information across the country.

“An informed parent is an empowered parent,” Kerwin told School Reform News. “The Parent Power Index isn’t just about school choice. [It’s also] about a variety of components, such as how much parents can learn from state report cards and whether school board elections are held during general elections, which makes it easier for parents to make their voices heard and hold their leaders accountable.”

Montana Ranks Last

According to the report, there are many states that provide quality educational options for parents and their children, and there’s a high level of competition between the states to determine which one provides the most educational freedom. However, there’s little doubt about which state is the most restrictive and deserves to rank last.

Montana received an abysmal score of 0 percent in the 2015 Parent Power Index. Montana’s low score sticks out, as every other state and Washington, DC scored at least 50 percent or better in the ratings.

Indiana was the top state, earning a score of 90 percent. Florida was just one percentage point behind at 89 percent, and Arizona was third-highest, finishing at 88 percent. The overall average was 68 percent.

Montana’s ranking was due in part to its failure to provide a law that allows charter schools and because the state does not allow statewide, full-time online schools.

“Montana’s ranking reflects the shameful behavior of many public officials,” said Brent Mead, executive director of the Montana Policy Institute. “Our governor, Office of Public Instruction, and numerous others are content to ignore the struggles of students and families falling behind in the traditional public schools. We owe it to these families and our communities to keep fighting for change so all children are able to reach their potential.”

Reform Efforts Stymied

Teachers unions and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) have blocked efforts to introduce school choice in Montana since he assumed office in 2013, Mead says.

“Unfortunately, Montana’s ranking shows how much power the entrenched special interests have compared to parents,” Mead said. “We worked hard to pass a great charter school bill last session. We actually delivered a tuition tax credit bill for students with special needs onto the governor’s desk. However, Gov. Bullock did not listen to the parents and children who came to tell their story. He listened to the groups who fight for the status quo.

“Children and families who are struggling in the traditional public schools do not have any recourse right now in Montana,” Mead said. “Someday, parents in Montana will be able to direct their children’s education and get them in the best possible environment, but that day has not come yet.”

Kerwin says Montana has made some recent changes but it is too soon to judge how effective they will be.

“It’s unfortunate that Montana has consistently been one of the lowest-performing states when it comes to empowering parents,” Kerwin said. “The state recently adopted a tax credit scholarship program, but it’s too early to tell if it will result in greater opportunities for children. Seeing how policies play out on the ground, rather than simply grading them based on how they look on paper, is a key piece when it comes to ranking parent power.”

Indiana Ranks First Again

Indiana ranked number one for both 2014 and 2015 in the Parent Power Index.

“Indiana continues to hold the top spot on CER’s Parent Power Index, in large part thanks to a much-tested and improved charter school law and a statewide school choice program that has attracted tens of thousands of students,” Kerwin said.

“While the top 10 parent power states remain strong, there’s still room for improvement and much left to be done, as most states are barely scratching the surface when it comes to empowering parents,” Kerwin said. “Parent power is the foundation of the educational process and the key to helping transform schools and create new and better learning opportunities for our nation’s future: our children.”

Tom Gantert ([email protected]) is senior capitol correspondent for Michigan Capitol Confidential, a daily news site of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Image by Gage Skidmore.

Internet Info

Parent Power Index 2015, Center for Education Reform, August 2015: