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
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
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
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
Dan Lips is Education Analystat the Heritage Foundation,