By Dan Lips
As the evidence about the benefits of school choice accumulate, opponents need to start inventing new arguments for opposing policies that allow parents to choose the best school for their children. Two new academic research reports highlight the benefits of school choice and address two common arguments cited by critics.
For years, opponents of school choice have argued that voucher programs would drain taxpayer resources for public education. But it turns out they got things backwards. A new report by Dr. Susan Aud finds that school choice programs have led to substantial savings for public schools and steady increases in per-student spending in public schools.
Dr. Aud, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, studied eleven school voucher programs in eight states. She found that the programs saved state and local taxpayers $444 million from 1990 to 2006-$22 million for state budgets and $422 million for local school districts. Those savings mean that more can be spent on those students who do remain in public schools.
The explanation for this result is simple: Educating a child in a voucher or scholarship program usually costs less than what would have been spent on the child in a traditional public school. For example, since 2002, Florida's corporate scholarship tax credit program has been providing scholarships worth $3,500 to disadvantaged students currently attending public schools. The program has cost the state $11.7 million but saved local public school districts $53 million - what they would have spent had these students remained in public schools. The net result was $42 million in savings for public education.
The result is gains in per-student spending for students attending public schools. According to Dr. Aud, "Instructional spending has consistently gone up in all affected public school districts and states." Contrary to the critics' rhetoric, school choice programs actually boost resources for kids who remain in public schools.
Another argument of school choice opponents is that public schools are better at teaching citizenship and civic education. Government-run public schools, they say, inculcate civic values and teach the responsibilities of citizenship.
But a new study by Professor Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas casts doubt on that theory. In a meta-analysis of twenty-one quantitative studies, Professor Wolf found that schools of choice generally equal or surpass traditional public schools in the teaching of seven fundamental civic values: political tolerance, voluntarism, political knowledge, political participation, social capital, civic skills, and patriotism.
Professor Wolf concludes, "The empirical studies to date counter the claims of school choice opponents that private schooling inherently and inevitably undermines the fostering of civic values." Moreover, "The statistical record suggests that private schooling and school choice often enhance the realization of the civic values that are central to a well-functioning democracy."
These studies add to a growing body of academic research showing the benefits of choice in education. Multiple surveys-including the Department of Education's National Household Education Survey-have reported that parents exercising school choice are more satisfied with their children's educational experience. Most recently, a report released this week shows that parents of students participating in the Washington, D.C. scholarship program have a high level of satisfaction with their children's education. Other academic papers show that children participating in school voucher programs outperform their peers academically. One research paper has found that existing school voucher programs improved racial integration, because private schools in Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Washington, D.C., are less segregated than the public schools in those cities.
As parental choice in education continues to expand across the nation, the benefits of school choice are becoming increasingly clear. The question is how long will it take for policymakers to take notice.
Dan Lips is Education Analystat the Heritage Foundation, www.Heritage.org.