Excellent education options come in many flavors: traditional public, charter public, private, parochial and home school. Parents should have the freedom to choose the option that is best for their children, not just the one that the government chooses.

Choice makes a real difference in children’s lives. Let me tell you about Amoreé, a public-school student from Goldsboro who wasn’t receiving the challenging education he needed. He began to withdraw, lose interest and get into trouble.

“The desire to learn that I needed him to have early on was dying,” his mother, Charlonda Brown, told me. Then, by chance, Charlonda found North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship program. She was able to send Amoreé to a private school that would serve his needs. Within months, Amoreé was excelling both in his schoolwork, at home and on the football field. “It was immediate — you saw the light come back on in his eyes,” Charlonda said.

We have parents across this state just like Charlonda, who are fighting for opportunities for their children. But for far too long, our state’s education system hasn’t put students first.

Instead, we’ve pointed fingers and looked to protect an outdated and antiquated system. We’ve bickered over fractions of percentage points in funding models and pay scales rather than discuss a fundamental mindset shift that would treat our students as individuals rather than widgets in a factory. We have schools throughout our state that have seen multi-generational failure, and no amount of increased funding has or will break that cycle. We’ve fought and re-fought the same tired battles rather than discuss whether we’re preparing our students for the modern world. We have somehow been sold the lie that the government is the only beneficent provider of a good education.

As lieutenant governor and a member of the State Board of Education, I’ve had a front-row seat to it all. Perhaps the most baffling part, though, is the battle over school choice.

We all know that every child — no matter their socioeconomic status, ethnicity, gender or background — has the God-given ability to learn. As a father of four, I’ve seen first-hand that no child is created the same. Each of my children has their own unique strengths and weaknesses in how they learn. The same goes for yours, and for every child in North Carolina. So in today’s age of customization and personalization, why would we settle for the same one-size-fits-all education? Why should a child’s ZIP code determine the quality of education they receive?

We demand choices in our groceries, choices in clothing and choices in the type of car we choose to drive. However, when someone wants to offer more choices to families for their education, roadblocks are put up.

If you get all your information about North Carolina education from op-eds or social media, you would think that my goal is to destroy public education. In fact, that is exactly what was published in a recent guest column in this newspaper.

These outlandish claims are only a distraction and meant to push their pro-system agenda.

To get a few things on the record, I have always believed:

  • We shouldn’t place a cap on how much our best teachers can earn.
  • Teachers should be rewarded for earning Master’s degrees in their subject area.
  • Most policy decisions, like class size, should be decided at the local level.
  • Every school should have a great principal.
  • Students should take fewer standardized tests.
  • Every school should have trade professionals teaching practical skills.
  • The money should always follow the student to the school and be block granted directly to the principal, not the bureaucracy.

But my real agenda is simple: Putting students first. We must empower parents to make the best decisions for their student’s education.

For most parents, that choice is a traditional public school. That makes sense because we have many excellent public schools throughout North Carolina. However, that won’t be the case for every child. Already, we’ve seen a movement across our state in favor of school choice.

Today, one out of every five children attends school outside the traditional public option — and that number is only rising. Some people view this fact as a threat. I see it as a cry for help from parents who are fighting for their kids — parents like Charlonda.

We can no longer put the system first, or teachers unions or school boards. We must put students first.

Dan Forest is the lieutenant governor of North Carolina.

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