When it comes to school choice, parents with money have options; parents with little or no money have fewer options.

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One way to empower parents is through school choice programs that allow students and their parents to pick the school that works best for them – and the money to pay for it should follow the student. Currently, students in San Diego County are able to attend the public, private, charter or magnet schools of their choice, but many local charter schools are impacted, making it necessary to place students on a long waiting list as is the case with The Preuss School in La Jolla. Recognized by Newsweek as the top transformative high school in the nation for three years in a row, The Preuss School is a unique charter middle and high school for low-income students. Almost 100 percent of its graduates go on to higher education – we need more schools like Preuss.

In San Diego County, there are limited school choice programs in comparison to the number of public schools, and these choice schools vary widely in terms of who is eligible to participate and how many students may attend. There are 753 public schools in San Diego County serving approximately 500,000 students, and according to the California Department of Education there are 120 charter schools in San Diego County. Roughly 16 percent of the schools in San Diego County are charter schools, several successful, some not so successful and some are doing about as well as their public counterpart.

It is no surprise that many of our local public schools need improvement, and successful models like The Preuss School should be replicated by school districts across San Diego County. Well-run charter schools create competition, and competition can trigger low-performing schools to improve. Rather than simply providing an alternative to neighborhood public schools for a few students, school choice also benefits students remaining in their neighborhood schools, because competition motivates schools and school districts to respond to the loss of students and the revenues students bring, producing a rising tide, and a rising tide lifts all boats.

Mark Powell was elected to the San Diego County Board of Education, representing District 1, in June 2016; his term begins in January 2017. He has been a teacher, vice principal and dean of students with San Diego Unified. He is a professor at National University’s School of Teacher Education and a small-business owner.

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