The fight for school choice is truly a David vs. Goliath story. It is no secret that teacher’s unions flush with cash and political influence have a huge stake in denying an avenue for students to use their education dollars for non-public schooling. The current system has become “too big to fail” and every attempt at innovation and experimentation has traditionally been met with vitriol, lies and massive propaganda campaigns.

Those fighting for parents to have more control over the education of their children are typically grassroots organizations, volunteers and bipartisan. School choice is workable solution to our current education woes but because it challenges the status quo in the era of big government it continues to face an uphill battle.

It is no secret that as school curriculum and safety become more and more questionable more parents are turning to education alternatives for help. In California the shocking new sex ed curriculum is so unimaginably explicit that it is driving parents out of the public schooling system in droves. But that leaves a lot of good people with some big gaps to fill. In an expensive state like California, how does one provide a non-public education and still pay their bills?

One organization aims to educate Californians on what their options might look like if we had access to a school choice system in California.

The Kids Union is a school choice advocacy group and their goal is to simplify the issues around school choice as much as possible. Information is king, and the more information parents have about choice the more they choose it. The Kids Union Calculator is designed to show California parents exactly how much money they would save for their child’s education if only they were allowed to take the tax dollars attached to their child and spend them on whatever form of K-12 education they choose.

It’s pretty neat. 

Using the latest data available from 2017, the easy-to-use app has collected tuition and tax information from the state and thousands of private institutions within California. The curious parent simply needs to enter a bit of information – wether they intend to use public (which includes charters), private or homeschooling options, their address and how far they’re willing to travel for school. Based on the current known average cost per pupil of California (around $12,000 per pupil at the moment) the calculator will tell parents how much money they might save by using a school choice program in their education choices.

Here’s a handy-dandy video they made about how it works.

The app frames the savings in the context of an Education Savings Account, a popular program option in school choice advocacy circles. It’s basically what it sounds like – an individual education savings account funded by the state’s education dollars but controlled by parents. It’s a popular compromise because it allows the state to maintain a measure of control over the money while allowing parents to customize their child’s education according to his/her needs.

I tested it out by entering my own data for my middle school daughter from this school year to the end of 12th grade. I did it for both private schools and homeschooling. I live in the suburbs of Orange County, a place filled with elite private schools that can cost up to $40k per year. The state average of $12,000 per public pupil barely puts a dent in some places and rarely ended with a “savings” but  to even have the cost of one of these top-tier schools mitigated in any way seemed extremely attractive. I’ve seen these programs – there’s a reason these schools are so pricey. You can’t put a number on how valuable it would be to a low-income family to have even the option to send their child to one of these schools.

Within the private schooling calculator I chose 2 relatively moderately priced religious schools (that I’ve always wished my kids could attend) for the six years of schooling my daughter has left (my oldest graduates next year). My total “savings” for that six years worked out to about $306. Not a huge number when you think of “saving” but when you realize that in that 6 years I won’t have paid a dime of my disposable income for that education it suddenly becomes a lot more of a “wow” moment.

Unsurprisingly, the homeschool option was a really big number. If I had access to my child’s education dollars and I homeschooled her for six years we would end up with about $72,000 in an ESA for her college education.

How ’bout them apples?

While the Elizabeth Warren’s of the world are demanding taxpayers come out of pocket yet again to provide a fully free college education to anyone who wants it, school choice advocates have found a way send more kids to college without costing the state (taxpayer) an extra dime. In fact, the state ends up saving money when parents have more choices.

The makers of the app say they hope it makes the school choice landscape a bit easier to understand and a lot more attractive. In turn, they hope it will spur more parents and educators to push their leaders for new school choice legislation.

This isn’t available for other states at the moment, but now that the technology has been created it is a simple process to convert the numbers to apply in other states. The Kids Union has made their app available to any group in any state who has the notion and the resources to bring to their own constituents.

School choice is an issue that affects us all. It cuts across economic and social boundaries. It evens the playing field for those in lower-income and at-risk populations. The dinosaur unions are perpetually muddying the waters with false information but the concept is really quite simple, affordable and just.

Making an app like this more accessible could have a dramatic effect on the landscape of choice in this country, but most certainly in the state of California.