May 17, 2001

May 17, 2001 | News Releases on Education

School-Choice Programs Made Gains in 2000, Study Shows

WASHINGTON, May 17, 2001-Proponents of school choice may be disappointed with the education reform legislation now before Congress, but they can look back on 2000 as a year of progress on many fronts, according to The Heritage Foundation's annual report on school choice in the states.

Public attitudes continued to shift toward choice last year; lawmakers responded with new and bolder legislation; courts upheld choice and charter school laws, and-most importantly-children continued to show progress in classrooms where choice programs were in place, writes Jennifer Garrett, the Heritage research assistant who assembled the report.

"School choice grows ever more popular," Garrett says. She cites polls showing that: more than half of all adults favor government vouchers for tuition at private and religious schools; 82 percent of parents want to be in charge of their children's education, and 72 percent say competition improves education.

Even the National Education Association-the nation's largest teachers' union and a sworn enemy of choice programs-found that most Americans support President Bush's proposal to let children in failing schools use public dollars to attend public, private or charter schools of their choice, and 63 percent favor tuition vouchers of up to $1,500 per year.

Formerly staunch critics now concede that, in the words of John Witte, the professor hired to evaluate Milwaukee's voucher program, choice can be a "useful tool to aid low-income children," Garrett says.

On the legislative front, Garrett found that 37 states and the District of Columbia have enacted charter school or voucher legislation. A ballot initiative to end school choice in Oregon got less than half the signatures required to put the proposal before voters.

In 2000, 21 states considered legislation to create charter schools or voucher programs for low-income students, and 18 took up measures for tax credits or deductions. Amendments to strengthen charter school laws are pending in Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada and Illinois, and voucher legislation has been proposed in eight states, including Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, New York and Texas.

By the end of 2000, 50,000 children across the country were participating in 79 privately funded scholarship programs for low-income students, and 12,000 were enrolled in five publicly funded programs, according to the report. In addition, more than 2,000 charter schools in 34 states served more than half a million children.

More children take part in these programs because more adults have discovered they work, Garrett says. Research published in 2000 revealed that: students in New York City's Catholic schools outscored their public-school counterparts by significant amounts on fourth- and eighth-grade achievement tests; in Pennsylvania, charter school students made huge gains on achievement tests in just two years; and Harvard researchers found voucher programs add, on average, 6.3 percentile points to black-student scores on standardized tests.

With support for school choice growing among African-American parents, former Superintendent of Milwaukee Schools Howard Fuller announced in September the formation of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) to highlight the importance of choice for children in inner-city communities. The BAEO has spent more than $1 million to place ads in Washington, D.C., and plans to expand the campaign to other cities.

"As the number of legislative proposals now before Congress and state legislatures indicates, support for school choice programs is not only growing but reaching all-time highs," says Garrett. "Bureaucrats may know line items in the budget, but parents and teachers know students and their needs. And the programs already in place are proving this."

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