Choosing good jobs begins with school choice

Most Americans will use this Labor Day to wind down the summer, cook out with friends or get a long weekend away. Unfortunately, for 9.7 million unemployed Americans, Labor Day will be no different from other days as they scrape to survive.

For those who do have a job, full time or part time, many are struggling through this weak economy some five years after the Great Recession. Wage growth has been stagnant for many. Few have seen pay rises as costs for health care, energy, food and other expenses continue to rise. Although the unemployment rate has started to drop in recent months, wages haven’t risen with it.

There’s only one route to getting coveted good jobs, a 40-hour work week and higher wages: a high school diploma and some type of post-secondary education or training. Today, too many students — who aren’t getting an education suited to their needs — will never have a shot at making a decent wage unless we embrace changes in our schooling system.

That transformation must come with school choice. Today, there are 51 school choice programs in 24 states and Washington, D.C., that enable more than 300,000 pupils to transfer to a private school that offers them a better educational opportunity. In Georgia, there is a school voucher program that only serves special needs pupils and a tax credit program that helps some children attend private schools. The vast majority of Georgia students have no school choice.

Nationwide, when 51 million children are stuck in the public school assigned to them by their address, their future is limited by the education offered at their neighborhood school. Some public schools are excellent, but others are lacking.

All parents should be free to choose a school that works for children so no child faces a lifetime of poverty, government assistance, unemployment or low wages because of poor educational skills. A good education should not be limited to those who can afford private school or a home in a good school district.

A 2012 study by the Brookings Institution and Harvard University found a privately funded k-12 voucher program in New York City increased the overall college enrollment rate among African-American students by 24 percent.

And more education leads to greater wages. According to the Center for Education Statistics, young adults with bachelor’s degrees earned more than twice as much as those without a high school diploma or its equivalent — $46,900 compared to $22,900. College graduates earned 57 percent more than those with a high school diploma.

With a sputtering economy holding down significant salary increases, the best path to prosperity is to avoid unemployment or a dead-end job. For millions of American children, that will happen only if their educational outlook is transformed through giving their parents the job of choosing the schools that work best for them.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Robert Enlow is president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the legacy foundation of Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman and his wife Rose.