Many Members of
Congress value the opportunity to choose a safe and effective
school for their own children, yet many of these same Members
consistently oppose school choice legislation that would give
the same opportunity to other families. For example, Senators
Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) have been
outspoken opponents of school choice initiatives even though both
have sent their children to private schools.
Since 2000, The
Heritage Foundation has conducted several surveys of Members
of Congress to determine how many Senators and Representatives
practice school choice by sending their children to private
school. In 2007, The Heritage Foundation updated
this survey and found that 37 percent of Representatives and 45
percent of Senators in the 110th Congress sent their children to
private schools-almost four times the rate of the general
Based on the
survey results, if all of the Members who exercised school choice
for their own children had supported school choice in policy, every
major legislative effort in recent years to give parents school
choice would have passed. Congress should support policies that
give all families the opportunity to choose the best school
options for their children.
The Parental Choice
Survey of Members of Congress
In 2007, The
Heritage Foundation conducted a survey of Members of Congress to
determine the percentage that practice private school choice. The
Heritage Foundation conducted similar surveys in 2000, 2001,
and 2003, and the results show that private school
choice continues to be an important option for elected leaders'
families. (See Table 1.)
The 2007 survey
found that the percentage of Members of the 110th Congress who
practice private school choice is disproportionate to the
general populace, since only 11.5 percent of American students
attend private schools. Also of note, Members of the
Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Hispanic Caucus, who
represent populations that have fared poorly academically in public
schools and that stand to benefit the most from educational
options, showed particularly high rates of
practicing school choice.
include the following:
- Over 37 percent of Representatives and 45 percent of
Senators responded that they had sent their children to private
- Over 23 percent of House Education and Labor Committee members
and 33 percent of Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
Committee members exercised private school choice; and
- Exactly 52 percent of Congressional Black Caucus members
and 38 percent of Congressional Hispanic Caucus members sent at
least one child to private school.
22, 2007, and February 22, 2007, The Heritage Foundation contacted
the staff of each Representative and Senator to ask whether the
Member has children and, if so, whether they attend or have
attended public or private schools. For purposes of survey
tabulation, Members who have sent at least one child to
private school at any time were categorized as having exercised
Because the 2007
survey was conducted in the same way as the 2003 survey, if a
Member did not respond to the 2007 survey request, 2003 data were
used whenever possible. If no data were available from either
survey and the Member did not respond, the Member was included in
the "no response" category.
methodology, the response rate for the survey was 69 percent for
Representatives and 72 percent for Senators.
Congress has considered multiple initiatives to expand parental
choice in education. In 2001, during the first congressional debate
over No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the House of Representatives
voted down an amendment that would have given scholarships to
students attending low-performing or dangerous public schools by a
vote of 155 to 273. During the Senate debate over NCLB, the
Senate rejected a pilot program to provide scholarships to
low-income students by a vote of 41 to 58.
Based on the 2003
survey, each of these amendments would have passed if Members
who exercised school choice for their own children had voted
in favor of the school choice initiatives.
Developments Since 2003
Since the 2003
survey, Congress has taken an historic step to empower parents by
creating the first federal school voucher program for
disadvantaged children in Washington, D.C.
In 2004, the
House of Representatives passed legislation to give low-income
students in the District of Columbia who are trapped in
low-performing public schools the opportunity to apply for a
scholarship to attend a private school of choice. The D.C. Choice
Incentive Act of 2003 (H.R. 2556) passed by only one vote (209-208)
as part of H.R. 2765. The vote was largely along party lines: Only
15 Republicans voted against it, and only three Democrats voted for
The Senate passed
the measure by a vote of 65 to 28 as part of an omnibus spending
bill (H.R. 2673). Opposition to the voucher program led some
Senators to oppose the overall spending bill, and Senator
Kennedy and other Democrats held an anti-voucher rally immediately
after the vote. Vowing to repeal the voucher program, he
proclaimed: "Even after this vote, don't bank on vouchers coming to
D.C." However, opponents have not succeeded in
repealing the program.
legislation created the first federally funded voucher program, now
known as the Washington, D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.
More than 1,800 students, with an average family income of $21,100,
are using opportunity scholarships to attend 66 participating
private schools in Washington. Approximately 11 percent of eligible
low-income students have applied for a scholarship.
scholarship program is an important step toward parental choice in
education. Despite serving only a limited number of students, a
school choice program in the nation's capital is a model for the
rest of the country.
produced two key reports analyzing the program's
- The first report, published by the Georgetown University Public
Policy Institute in May 2007, found that "[t]he vast majority of
families participating in this study are satisfied with the
OSP [Opportunity Scholarship Program] in general, and their choice
of new schools in particular." The report concluded that parents
were more involved in their children's education and that their
involvement increased the longer their child participated in the
program. The report also found that participating parents had
become active and engaged consumers of education, visiting an
average of three schools before selecting one.
- The second report,released by the U.S. Department of
Education in June 2007, evaluated student achievement in the D.C.
Opportunity Scholarship Program. While the report found
gains among some subgroups, the academic results were
predictably modest since the study evaluated students after
only one year in the program.
achievement studies of similar voucher programs have been positive.
Eight random-assignment studies of five school voucher and
tuition scholarship programs compared the performance of
students who were awarded scholarships to attend private school
through a lottery system to the performance of their peers who
entered the lottery but did not receive scholarships and
therefore remained in public school. According to education
researcher Jay Greene, all but one of these studies found that
students using scholarships to attend private schools performed
significantly better academically, and every study found some
positive academic effect. For example, two
randomized-experiment studies of the Milwaukee school voucher
program have found that students who received vouchers through a
lottery made academic gains when compared to their peers who
remained in public school. Similar studies of private school choice
programs in other cities (e.g., Charlotte, New York City, and
Washington, D.C.) reached similar conclusions.
for School Choice
Opportunity Scholarship Program represents a significant
policy advance at the federal level, but the most important
progress is being made at the state level. Twelve states and the
District of Columbia offer publicly funded private-school choice
The number of
states offering private school choice will increase because of the
2007 state legislative sessions. In May, Georgia Governor Sonny
Perdue (R) signed into law a special-needs scholarship program,
and Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. (R), signed into law a nearly
universal school voucher program. Implementation of
Utah's program has been delayed by voucher opponents, who mounted a
successful petition drive to put the measure to a referendum.
Utah voters will decide the future of the program in November
Regardless of the
outcome of the Utah referendum, the number of students
benefiting from school choice options will increase in 2008 because
other states, including Pennsylvania, have expanded their
existing programs to include more students. Currently, an
estimated 150,000 students are participating in private-school
choice programs across the country.
The Benefits of
For the Members
of Congress who exercise school choice, the benefits of allowing
parents to choose a safe and effective school for their children
should be obvious. In addition, a growing body of research and
practical evidence shows that school choice programs are
- School choice options have proven widely popular with
families. When private-school scholarships have been made
available, many families have applied, and programs that are fully
phased-in have long waiting lists for scholarships.
- School choice programs improve parents' satisfaction with
their children's schools.
- Children benefiting from school choice scholarships have
improved academically compared to their peers.
- School choice programs have had a positive effect on public
school systems because the threat of competition is spurring public
schools to improve their services.
Proposals in the 110th Congress
During the 110th
Congress, Members will have opportunities to maintain and expand
parental choice in education. For example, the D.C. Opportunity
Scholarship Program receives annual appropriations and is set to
expire in 2008.
If all Members of
Congress who have sent their children to private schools voted in
accordance with the choices they have exercised personally, the
program would be reauthorized with a healthy margin. Over 37
percent of House Democrats have practiced school choice, but
96 percent of Democrats who practiced school choice voted against
the voucher program.
parental choice will be part of the reauthorization debate over No
Child Left Behind. Representative Howard "Buck" McKeon (R-CA),
ranking member of the House Education and Labor Committee, and
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) have introduced the
Empowering Parents Through Choice Act (H.R. 1486). This legislation
would provide low-income students trapped in schools labeled as
"restructuring" or "failing" under NCLB with a scholarship to
attend a private school of choice. If each of the
Representatives who practice school choice were to join with
those who have traditionally supported school choice, the
Empowering Parents through Choice Act would also pass.
public, and Members of Congress have shown that they value allowing
parents to choose a safe and effective education for their
children. According to a 2007 survey conducted by The Heritage
Foundation, 37 percent of U.S. Representatives and 45 percent
of U.S. Senators sent their children to private schools-roughly
four times the rate of the rest of the population.
families-unlike Members of Congress-simply do not have the
financial means to send their children to private schools,
especially after paying taxes to support public education. Members
of Congress should support policies that give all families the
opportunity to choose the best school options for their
Evan Feinberg is a
Research Assistant in the Domestic Policy Studies Department at The
Heritage Foundation. John Lavoie and Elizabeth Smitham, Heritage
Foundation interns, contributed to this report.
 For examples, see
Karen DeWitt, "The New Presidency: Chelsea's School; Sidwell Is
Often Chosen by Capital's Elite," The New York Times,
January 6, 1993, p. A14; Deroy Murdock, "A Friendship Killer,"
National Review, September 22, 2003, at www.nationalreview.com/murdock/
murdock200309221702.asp (May, 21, 2007); and Carrie
L. Lukas, "The Choice of Private Schools," Independent Women's
Forum, February 1, 2004, at www.iwf.org/issues/issues_detail.asp?
ArticleID=467 (May 21, 2007).
 Survey respondents
were assured that the results would not be attributed to individual
Members of Congress.
 Survey results
reflect individuals who have or have had school-age children. For
more detailed survey results, see the Appendix.
 Krista Kafer and
Jonathan Butcher, "How Members of Congress Practice School Choice,"
Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1684, September 3,
2003, at www.heritage.org/Research/Education/BG1684.cfm;
Jennifer Garrett, "Another Look at How Members of Congress
Exercise School Choice," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder
No. 1553, May 22, 2002, at www.heritage.org/Research/Education/BG1553.cfm;
and Nina Shokraii Rees and Jennifer Garrett, "How Members of
Congress Practice School Choice," Heritage Foundation
Backgrounder No. 1377, June 13, 2000 at www.heritage.org/Research/Education/BG1377.cfm.
 Author's calculation
based on enrollments in public and private schools in 2005,
reported in U.S. Department of Education, National Center for
Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, 2006,
NCES 2006-030, Chap. 1, at http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d06/ch_1.asp
(August 29, 2007).
 Blacks and Hispanics
score significantly lower than their Caucasian peers on measures of
long-term academic achievement as measured by the National
Assessment of Educational Progress. U.S. Department of Education,
Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education
Statistics, "The Nation's Report Card: National Assessment of
Educational Progress," Web site, at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard
(August 28, 2007). Polling data show support for school
choice among minority populations. For example, see Latino
Coalition and Hispanic Business Roundtable, "National Survey of
Hispanic Adults," July 24, 2001; Sari Horowitz, "Poll Finds Backing
for D.C. School Vouchers; Blacks Support Idea More Than Whites,"
The Washington Post, May 23, 1998, p. F1; and press release,
"New Evidence Shows Bipartisan Support for School Choice Programs
in Florida by Registered Latino Voters," Hispanic Council for
Reform and Educational Options, October 17, 2006, at www.hispanicprwire.com/news.php?l=in&id=7283
(August 28, 2007).
 For a full breakdown
of survey statistics, see the Appendix.
 See H. Amdt. 57,
107th Congress, 1st Sess.
 See S. Amdt. 536, S.
Amdt. 357, and S. Amdt. 358, 107th Congress, 1st Sess.
 Robert Marus,
"Senators Approve DC Vouchers; Opponents Vow Legal Responses,"
Associated Baptist Press News, January 25, 2004, at www.abpnews.com/2405.article (June
 Stephen Q.
Cornman, Thomas Stewart, and Patrick J. Wolf, "The Evolution of
School Choice Consumers: Parent and Student Voices on the Second
Year of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program," Georgetown
University Public Policy Institute, School Choice Demonstration
Project, May 2007, pp. viii, 19, and 34, at www.georgetown.edu/research/scdp/files/
Consumers%20PSV.pdf (August 28, 2007).
 Jay P. Greene,
Education Myths (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield
Publishers, Inc., 2005), pp. 150-154.
Hartocollis, "Private School Choice Plan Draws a Million Aid
Seekers," The New York Times, April 21, 1999, p. A1.
 For examples, see
Dan Lips, "The Impact of Tuition Scholarships on Low-Income
Families: A Survey of Arizona School Choice Trust Parents,"
Goldwater Institute Policy Report No. 187, December 11,
2003, at www.goldwaterinstitute.org/Common/Files/Multimedia/392.pdf
(August 28, 2007); Jay P. Greene and Greg Forster, "Vouchers for
Special Education Students: An Evaluation of Florida's McKay
Scholarship Program," Manhattan Institute Civic Report No.
38, June 2003, at www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_38.htm
(June 18, 2007); and Stacey Bielick and Christopher Chapman,
"Trends in the Use of School Choice, 1993 to 1999," NCES 2003-031,
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education
Statistics Statistical Analysis Report, May 2003, p. 25, at
(June 18, 2007).
Education Myths, pp. 150-154.
calculation based on U.S. House of Representatives, Office of the
Clerk, "Final Vote Results for Roll Call 490," and The Heritage
Foundation, school choice survey of the Members of the 110th
Congress, January-February 2007.