It’s a question we’ve been hearing a lot lately from lawmakers as they debate education bills in the legislative session currently underway.

If certain policies are important enough to apply to traditional public schools, why not also make them applicable to the roughly 150 public charter schools and 350 state-approved private schools in Louisiana? Shouldn’t the state require students at all types of schools to be taught the same academic standards and take the same tests, as to allow for “apples to apples” comparisons? Why not make all students across all types of schools, even the 39,500 students across our state being homeschooled, meet the same exact requirements to earn a high school diploma?

One might be tempted to say yes, those things make sense, before considering two critical facts: (1) the role of government in these various educational settings isn’t the same, and more importantly, (2) children are not the same.

I’ll be the first to concur that traditional public schools are overregulated. But contrary to much of what public school leaders purport in the state capitol, most of the requirements they don’t like are mandated by federal laws and regulations, not state ones. They know this, but rather than joining their colleagues from across the country in seeking changes at the federal level, they engage in “misery loves company” at the state level, asking lawmakers to apply the same public school requirements onto their non-public competitors who are increasingly serving more children as public school enrollment declines.

Take academic standards and testing, for example. The federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act requires all states receiving federal education dollars to adopt statewide academic standards (what students are taught at each grade level in core academic subjects) as well as tests that measure students’ learning of those same academic standards. The way state education agencies, like our Louisiana Department of Education, are required to ensure compliance, ensuring that the quality and rigor of teaching in government-run schools meets minimum standards and children are well served, is through a federally mandated accountability rating system that includes interventions for low-performing schools.

These laws were put in place as protections for children who are assigned or “zoned” to specific public schools by their local school boards based on their home address and district boundaries. In the vast majority of public school districts, families are given a single school assignment. In many cases, students perform well in their neighborhood public school and have a great educational experience. But if a child’s family determines that a change is needed, for any number of reasons, there’s no guarantee they’ll get it. Most often, those with financial resources are able to transfer their child to a different school or home school; those without are stuck.

Obviously, non-government run schools don’t work this way; students are never assigned or trapped in a setting that doesn’t work for them. In a system of true choice and educational freedom, families can freely choose schools, teachers, courses, and other educational programs that meet their child’s individual needs. If they’re not satisfied with the education being provided to their child, they have the freedom to go—and the ability to direct resources—elsewhere. The “accountability” is built into the very decision-making they have, as parents and guardians who know their child best, in a free market system.

Public charter schools are unique in that, while no student is ever assigned to them, the federal and state governments require them to be treated and regulated in many of the same ways as traditional public schools. Charter schools are intended to be autonomous, able to innovate and operate differently than traditional public schools in exchange for being held to stringent expectations in a performance-based contract. If they fail to meet the bar set by their authorizer, they get shut down. Yet lawmakers, in response to traditional public school defenders determined to hinder competition, continue to deny them the autonomy they’re due and the ability to be evaluated and “held accountable” in the free market in which families actively choose them and value the service they provide.

Why do all these various types of schools exist, anyway, and why are some states like Louisiana trying to help more families access non-traditional educational options for their children? The most obvious reason is because kids are unique. They have different learning styles, abilities, and needs. In a democratic society, families also have the freedom to raise and educate their children in a manner consistent with their own values. A one-size-fits-all approach that forces all schools to be the same and all students to learn the same way just doesn’t work.

So the next time you hear someone proposing to make all schools follow the same policies or making all students follow the same education requirements, remember, it’s likely for the protection of the status quo system, not to help individual children meet their full potential.