A system ‘where money follows the children, not schools’: A Q&A with Allison Sorensen

Written by Derek Monson

August 11, 2021

“Our vision is an education system where money follows children, not schools,” says Allison Sorensen, executive director of Education Opportunity for Every Child, a new Utah nonprofit whose mission is to empower parents with high-quality education options that fit their child’s needs. The launch of this new organization was, in part, motivated by the pandemic.

“Over the last year, we have seen a dramatic change in the education environment,” says Sorensen. “COVID has awakened parents in a way that no other event prior has had the capability of doing. … Given this environment, we saw an opportunity to make real change in the education system.”

What kinds of changes would Education Opportunity for Every Child like to see? “Education policy is one of the things we tend to play a game of ‘whack-a-mole’ much too often,” Sorensen says. “The reality is we could solve a lot of these problems by creating a more market-based system where the parent and child become real consumers of education rather than education being dictated by your ZIP code.”

Education Opportunity for Every Child is not just calling for policy reforms – it is working on the ground with parents to help them navigate the education marketplace. “This is one of my favorite things that we get to do,” says Sorensen. They help parents determine the needs of the child, their own priorities and the limits they face, and then recommend education options for them. “As we learned over the last year, a lot can change. Take it one year at a time to see where your child is and what they need for the coming year,” Sorensen recommends.

To learn more about Education Opportunity for Every Child, read the full interview between Sorensen and Sutherland Institute’s Vice President of Policy Derek Monson below.

Monson: You recently launched Education Opportunity for Every Child. What is the purpose and desired outcome of launching this new education-related nonprofit?

Sorensen: Over the last year, we have seen a dramatic change in the education environment. COVID has awakened parents in a way that no other event prior has had the capability of doing. For one of the first times ever, parents had a front row seat to what their children were learning and how they were being educated. This, in combination with schools not opening, mask mandates, and more. Parents gathered. Facebook groups showed up across the country; parents showed up to testify at every school board meeting and protested mandates. 

Given this environment, we saw an opportunity to make real change in the education system. Education policy is one of the things we tend to play a game of “whack-a-mole” much too often. We get upset over curriculum, teacher pay, test scores, and so on. The reality is we could solve a lot of these problems by creating a more market-based system, where the parent and child become real consumers of education rather than education being dictated by your ZIP code. We believe that by giving parents real choice in where and how they choose to educate their children, we can alter the dynamics of the very system itself. Education then becomes the result of what is demanded by the parents, students and educators themselves.

Monson: Your efforts include helping families understand the education opportunities available to them and assisting families in choosing the right opportunity for their child. What does the process of helping a family understand and choose the right opportunity for their child look like?

Sorensen: This is one of my favorite things that we get to do. We can give parents more education opportunities, but if they are unaware of them it does very little. When a parent asks for help finding the right education option for their child, we first talk about what the needs, interests and talents of the child are. We then ask what priorities the parents have for their children’s education. Are they looking for something academically rigorous? Religious? A love of learning? Entrepreneur-based? Once we establish what the needs are of the child and the priorities of the parent, we then ask how far they are willing to drive; do they want to a la carte their education through hybrid, online or homeschool, or find a brick-and-mortar school? We then recommend different options for them that they can look into and decide what is best for their child.

We always recommend you call, take a tour, test out a group, talk with other parents, try the program, etc., before making a commitment. We also recommend that they be willing to reassess each year. Our children can make significant growth in a year, and as we learned over the last year, a lot can change. Take it one year at a time to see where your child is and what they need for the coming year.

Monson: You also advocate for greater education opportunities for all children. What new education opportunities would you like to see in Utah?

Sorensen: Our vision is an education system where money follows children, not schools. Any policy that promotes this type of model we would be in favor of. Nationally we see programs such as education savings accounts, which have been highly successful in many states including Arizona. These programs allow students to choose from a range of schools and programs that put the parent and child needs at the center of the education market.

Monson: If parents want to learn more about or get involved with your organization, what is/are the best way(s) for them to do so?

Sorensen: Please visit our website ­– edopportunityutah.org. This will give you an overview of our organization, upcoming events, parent meetings, etc. You can connect with us there, and we would love to assist you in finding the right opportunity for your child. We also have an Instagram and Facebook page and group. Our Facebook group was specifically set up to allow parents to connect with each other and share their experiences with different education options.

We would also love to invite you to our backpack and school supply drive on Aug. 14. We will be distributing 1000+ bags and supplies to at-risk kids in the Salt Lake area. These students were hit the hardest last year as schools did not open for much of the year. You can come to the state fairgrounds that day and help us assemble and distribute the backpacks then, or you can donate the supplies to fill the bags. All the links and information are on our website.

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