School Choice Caucus Established in Congress

Published April 15, 2014

The Congressional School Choice Caucus is the first group of its kind on Capitol Hill. Parents and lawmakers joined forces March 25 for the inaugural meeting, broadly discussing ways to continue expanding educational freedom so every child can receive a good education, regardless of ZIP code.

U.S. Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN), founded the caucus during National School Choice Week in late January, saying school choice is the civil rights issue of this generation. His goal—to explain how market-based principles can improve education—could help policymakers understand how school choice is “something that changes lives” and be a catalyst to affect future relevant legislation.

“I’m pleased Rep. Messer is launching the School Choice Caucus to draw greater attention to the value and importance of school choice,” House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), author of the first school choice language ever to be adapted into law, said in a statement.

Raising the Profile
At present, 23 states and the District of Columbia offer private school choice programs. Messer, former head of School Choice Indiana, is now working to bring that state-level phenomenon to the federal level. Overhauling the federal system is difficult because the vast majority of funding comes from state and local taxes, but the caucus can raise awareness on the issue and send a message to lawmakers, said Lindsey Burke, the Will Skillman education fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

“The caucus will be able to think through ways the federal government can appropriately help to advance school choice, such as by allowing states the opportunity to make federal education dollars portable, following students to a private school of choice, or working to strengthen and grow the highly successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program,” she said.

Washington, DC resident Andrienne Lynch is the mother of three children who participate in the DC voucher program. She attended the caucus’s first meeting to share her positive experiences, affirming its ability to help children learn more, whether through open enrollment, expanding charter schools, or increasing access to online classrooms.

“There’s no question in my mind this program works” and “has changed our lives and our family,” she said  at the meeting. “I just can’t see not having this program for those that are coming behind me.”

House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Chair Todd Rokita (R-IN) also noted “a lot of bipartisan energy” around the issue.

“In America, a good education is the great equalizer, something that gives our children the chance to fulfill their potential no matter how they fared in the lottery of life. That’s why the more we can do to empower parents to pick and choose the schools that best meet their kids’ needs, the better,” Boehner said.

Image by Speaker John Boehner.