Why We Care About Education Choice

At the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy, people often ask us why we care about the education system and what we stand to gain from making changes to it.


Obviously, some people ask questions like this simply because they disagree with our values as an organization and feel a need to “troll” us on social media. But I think it’s worthwhile to take a moment to explain why we, the Cardinal Institute, care about West Virginia’s public education system.


As an organization, we are dedicated to the principles of limited government, free markets, individual economic freedom, and personal responsibility. We believe that these principles are foundational to the creation of a society of mutual benefit in which individuals can pursue happiness and reach their full potential.


In addition, we have deep roots in West Virginia. While Cardinal is still rather young, having been founded in late 2014, the majority of our team members, board, and advisory council call the Mountain State home. As a team, we love our state and want the best for it and its people. Given the principles we all hold to, we seek to research and communicate effective, liberty-oriented public policy principles that we sincerely believe will help to improve the state as a whole.


While the majority of the policies we work on are economic in nature (for example: removing burdensome occupational licensing barriers or improving the overall business regulatory environment), we also spend a lot of time as an organization researching education policy. In fact, it’s one of our Four Pillars for achieving the “West Virginia Miracle.”


Why is that?


Well, it’s because we believe that a quality education system is vital to a thriving economy. Education is good in and of itself, but even more important than that people can’t thrive if they don’t have the education they need to earn a reasonable living for themselves. Employers can’t run stable, productive businesses if they don’t have employees who can do the work that needs to be done. A broken education system leads to a broken economy. A broken economy leads to a dying state. As much as we all hate to admit it, West Virginia isn’t doing too well right now – and it hasn’t been for a very long time.


Okay, then. That’s all well and good, but why #EducationChoice?


Education choice is the idea that all families should have the same ability to pursue the educational opportunities that best fit the needs of their individual students regardless of socio-economic status.


Currently in West Virginia, families have three options: traditional public schools assigned by zip-code (this is your local district school), private schools (most of which are religious in West Virginia), or home school (this can be done virtually, independently, or through a co-op). Unfortunately, this means that if you do not have the income to afford private school tuition or the ability to homeschool your children then they MUST attend the traditional public school district assigned to you by zip-code REGARDLESS of its quality or ability to meet your student’s particular needs.


In a state like West Virginia, where the median income is nearly $17,000 below the national median income, MOST people are given only one real choice: their local public district school.


This might not be quite so bad if the traditional public schools in West Virginia were doing well, but they aren’t, and that means generations of West Virginians are going without the quality education that is so vital to their ability to pursue their American Dream.


This is why we believe in education choice and why we are so passionate in our pursuit of good public policy that frees the families of West Virginia to embrace the educational opportunities that will serve them best.


There are many things in the public education system that need fixing, and we want to see improvements within the public system as well. But the families of West Virginia can’t afford to wait on the slow bureaucracy of the state to tinker with the current system in hopes of gaining marginal improvements. These families’ futures depend on radical changes now! Education choice gives these families the freedom they desperately need to provide a quality education to their children.


West Virginians can’t wait. We need education choice now. And that’s why the Cardinal Institute fights for Educational Freedom!


Amanda Kieffer is the Communications Associate at the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy.