Community Christian School voucher program (copy)

Tracy Diers teaches history to third- and fourth-grade students Tuesday at Comunity Christian School of Baraboo.

I’m a believer that there’s always time for celebration. If we don’t take the time to recognize and celebrate historic moments, like July 4 or Jan. 21, we might begin to lose those pieces of history. Parties help us save history for future generations.

This year marks a historic moment for education in Wisconsin, one that’s worth celebrating. Thirty years ago, Wisconsin enacted the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), the first school choice voucher program in the United States. This decision helped spark a movement to give all families, especially low and middle-income families, increased access to schools of their choice.

Wisconsin proved that it only takes one state, or one individual, to get something great going. Soon other states followed in Wisconsin’s footsteps, creating more options so parents could send their kids to school based on family needs and interests rather than income and district.

Today, we have four parental choice programs in Wisconsin, and vouchers continue to grow. From serving 341 students in its first year, the MPCP now serves more than 28,900 students annually. Wisconsin also offers parents education options like open enrollment, charter schools, homeschooling and virtual schools. Families, especially in Milwaukee, have voiced their strong support for these school options, expanding and strengthening them.

So, back to how parties save history.

I’m Hispanic and we’re good at throwing parties! And that’s exactly what I’ve planned to celebrate this moment in history: a big party of families celebrating their children and something so important to children — education. Families, schools and community members from across Wisconsin are invited to join us at the state Capitol for this wonderfully big party.

The only agenda for this party is to give families the opportunity to reflect and express gratitude for the educational opportunities they have.

We’re celebrating the children, moms and dads whose lives have been improved by the choice programs created in the last three decades. We’re celebrating Wisconsin’s diverse schools — whether they’re traditional public, charter, private, home school or virtual. That’s the beauty of school choice: having the opportunity to find the learning environment that fits your child and provide that to them.

Of course, the movement to increase educational choice is not static. As we celebrate Wisconsin’s history, it’s also time to wonder: Where will we go from here?

I envision a future where parents don’t have to jump through hoops to send their child to a school where they can thrive. I envision a future where moms and dads will have the ability to take their child to any school they think is the best fit for them.

We may not be there yet, but we’ve come a long way since the enacting of the MPCP in 1990. It’s a beautiful thing to stop and celebrate the educational choices we have today. And it’s an opportunity to remind everyone, in Wisconsin and around the country, that sometimes it takes just one voice to start making a difference.

From Jan. 26 to Feb. 1, millions of Americans will be participating in the 50,000 events and activities planned for National School Choice Week. These events will celebrate where we’ve come, the educational options helping kids succeed today, and what we hope education will look like in the future. Will you make it to the party?

Tammy Olivas is outreach director at Hispanics for School Choice.

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