School Inc. could open Michigan viewer’s eyes

As the ink finishes drying on the nation’s widest-reaching educational choice law, Americans can tune in to see what’s behind such programs and why they work.

On April 6, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed into law an expansion of the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program. At the end of four years, parents of every public school student statewide will be able to use state funds to customize his or her education, subject to enrollment caps. This level of choice nearly had been achieved in neighboring Nevada, but a 2016 state Supreme Court ruling left the program in limbo, frustrating families seeking educational alternatives.

Developments in Arizona have school choice supporters smiling today, a fitting launch to the three-hour documentary “School Inc. – A Personal Journey with Andrew Coulson.” The first part of the televised series is scheduled to debut this coming week in cities across the United States. Viewers in the Detroit area viewed the episode on April 10.

The first episode re-airs Tuesday at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Parts two and three will appear at the same times in the weeks that follow.

In the newly released Free to Choose Media documentary, the one-time Mackinac Center senior fellow in education policy brings the audience along on his far-ranging travels to help answer the question: “If you build a better way to teach a subject, why doesn’t the world beat a path to your door, like they do in other industries?”

School Inc. is the culmination of the late Andrew Coulson’s dream of reaching a broad audience with the powerful case for transforming learning through choice and innovation. The dream finally comes to life before Andrew, who lost his battle with brain cancer in February 2016, was able to see it reach the airwaves.

Tom Shull, another former Mackinac Center staffer, aptly eulogized his one-time colleague as “a generous and talented human being who worked for freedom of choice for all children in education.”

Now that work has reached the biggest stage yet. As groundbreaking as Andrew’s book “Market Education: An Unknown History” was, the documentary makes the message and insights more accessible.

Nor have most people heard of James Tooley’s “The Beautiful Tree,” which to this day remains the most compelling book on education I’ve ever read. But the School Inc. journey includes a visit to the slums of India, where the low-tuition private schools featured in Tooley’s book have yielded amazing results.

The timing of the documentary’s release proves impeccable, almost as if it had been intended for this moment so it might reach an American audience highly attuned to the debate over educational choice. The election of Donald Trump has generated much discussion about the possibility of federal tax credit scholarship legislation.

And Michigan’s Betsy DeVos has a megaphone as the new secretary of education to promote the value of favoring families over education employees and bureaucracies by giving them the power to choose.

The way she quickly touted the new Arizona legislation as “a big win for students and parents” represents a breath of fresh air from the federal bureaucracy, and further helps to raise awareness of choice programs.

As Arizona opens up a host of learning options and opportunities to its families, maybe School Inc. will open many Michigan viewers’ eyes to the possibilities that lie ahead.

Ben DeGrow is the Mackinac Center’s director of education policy. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a nonpartisan research and educational institute dedicated to improving the quality of life for all Michigan residents by promoting sound solutions to state and local policy questions.