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Over the past several years, an important, but under-reported, trend has swept the nation. Around the country and right here in Wyoming, parents are harnessing the power of school choice to transform their children’s schooling — and the educational system as a whole. This National School Choice Week, we should recognize the ways in which school choice has brought new, quality educational options to families.

While Wyoming’s testing scores rank higher than the national average, many students still do not perform up to grade-level standards. According to results from the “Nation’s Report Card,” only 38 percent of Wyoming eighth-graders achieved a proficient level of performance in reading and math. And roughly one in five eighth graders did not achieve even a basic level of performance in math (21 percent) and reading (20 percent).

School choice attempts to improve our educational performance by ensuring that every child has access to the best learning environment for his or her interests, skills and talents. Choice works to match the child with the school — so that an art-loving student doesn’t end up in a program focused on the sciences, or a shy teenager won’t become overwhelmed in a massive urban high school. By giving options to the people who know children best — their parents — choice allows them to serve as advocates and partners for their children’s education.

Wyoming provides numerous types of school choice to interested families. Some districts offer open enrollment programs, where students can enroll at public schools outside their neighborhood boundaries. Wyoming also provides charter schools, publicly funded schools with more regulatory flexibility — and accountability for outcomes — than traditional public schools.

Parents can also homeschool their children or take advantage of the free online virtual academy available through a variety of statewide virtual academies. Particularly in a rural state like Wyoming, these options provide critically important access for families who might live miles, or even hours, away from the nearest brick-and-mortar school.

This National School Choice Week, parents, teachers and students will gather at more than 40,000 events nationwide the week of Jan. 20-29. These events will show the many ways that school choice has transformed the lives of millions of American children, giving them access to more, and better, educational options — and hope for a bright future.

Here in Wyoming, we will start celebrating National School Choice Week a bit early. Our first annual Wyoming School Fair, scheduled for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Jan. 19 at Cheyenne’s Little America Hotel, will host representatives from various public, private, charter, homeschooling and online education groups. If you’re interested in learning more about these quality learning options, I invite you to come to our fair and find out how one of these schools could change your child’s life.

As the old saying goes, a little knowledge can go a long way. The more parents learn about their school choice options, the more their children can know by ending up in the best learning environment for them. At Wyoming Parent, we hope that every parent can know about all their school choice options — and that every parent has the ability to choose the right school for their children.

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Melissa Denton is managing editor for Wyoming Parent.

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