Here Are 10 Reasons School Choice Is Winning

COMMENTARY Education

Here Are 10 Reasons School Choice Is Winning

Jan 24th, 2019 6 min read

Commentary By

Jude Schwalbach

Research Assistant, Center for Education Policy

James Selvey

Spring 2019 member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation

School choice means access to a quality education isn’t conditional on a family’s ability to purchase an expensive home or pay twice. Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

School choice is a growing movement, one that is already lifting thousands of kids across America.

The results are tangible. And states are leading the way, giving parents more options in their children’s education than ever before.

Here are 10 of the most promising benefits of school choice.

1. School choice is good for student safety.

Parents who exercise school choice frequently list school safety as one of their primary reasons for doing so. School safety is a particular concern in communities where violence is common. 

School choice options can help students escape communities where bullying, gang related violence, or other school violence is common. This has proved the case in Milwaukee, where research found that school choice participants were half as likely to commit felonies and misdemeanors as those who went to their local public school. 

On a wider scale, five empirical studies have found that students participating in private-school choice are safer and receive better schooling, as seen in the table below. 

Two other studies show a similar pattern:

  • School safety was among the top three reasons parents exercised school choice in the largest-ever survey conducted of a private school choice program. Among the nearly 15,000 respondents in Florida, 36 percent listed school safety in their top three priorities when choosing a school.
  • Parents have reported similar school safety-related motivations for exercising education choice in other settings, such as Washington, D.C.

2. School choice increases parental satisfaction and involvement. 

Most parents who exercise school choice report that they are highly satisfied with their child’s chosen school. In Arizona, for example, more than 70 percentof respondents with children who use the state’s education savings account option were “very satisfied.” 

Moreover, parents of students in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program reported being more satisfied and more involved with their children’s education when allowed to choose their children’s school. 

3. Education choice can give students an education tailored to their needs. 

Tools such as education savings accounts empower parents with the educational funds to tailor children’s education to their exact needs. Take the Visser family. Thanks to Arizona’s education savings account option, their son Jordan, who has cerebral palsy, was able to tailor a learning program to fit his specific educational needs. 

“We’ve done a schooling-at-home program now for two years with the teacher,” explained Kathy Visser, Jordan’s mom. “She’s got the visual knowledge to work with his vision, and she’s a special-ed teacher.” Jordan’s father, Christo, added: “Workbooks, and mathematics, and manipulatives. We are developing his curriculum based on his needs. That is a huge advantage for us.” 

That’s the type of customization that the traditional “one-size-fits-all” district model simply cannot provide. 

4. School choice provides options for low-income families. 

Education choice breaks the arbitrary link between a child’s housing and the school he or she can attend. This means the price of home a family can afford no longer determines their child’s access to a quality education. 

For some middle-income families, and many more upper-income families, this link is already effectively severed. They afford to pay twice: both for their child’s private school tuition and the taxes to support the public system. But for lower-income families, that isn’t the case. 

School choice means access to a quality education isn’t conditional on a family’s ability to purchase an expensive home or pay twice.  

5. School choice leads to higher graduation rates.

Students participating in school choice programs are significantly more likely to graduate from high school. For instance, students participating in the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which helps low-income students attend private schools of their choice, experienced a 21 percentage point increase in graduation rates. 

6. School choice saves taxpayer dollars. 

School choice options achieve all the benefits previously listed, at much lower cost to taxpaying Americans than the typical public school model. 

School choice mechanisms like vouchers, tax credit scholarships, and education savings accounts cost a fraction of what is spent in the public system, so they are a win-win—both for taxpayers and for students. One studyfound that access to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, because of its positive impact on graduation rates, produced a $2.62 return for every dollar spent on the voucher program.

7. School choice puts competitive pressure on schools. 

Introducing school choice options increases the overall quality of local schools since “improvement occurs from the threat of competition alone.” Research shows that public school student performance in both Florida and Milwaukeeimproved after the launch of new school choice opportunities. 

8. School choice makes schools more accountable. 

School choice creates direct accountability to parents. It gives schools a strong incentivize to meet the needs of their students since unsatisfied parents can take their children and education dollars elsewhere. 

The bottom-up approach of a market-based education system means that parents are education providers’ immediate stakeholders. This creates a “feedback loop that does not exist in the more centralized, top-down systems like the district schools.” Policymakers should trust parents and education providers to innovate and collaborate together as they work to meet the needs of a diverse student population.

9. School choice makes education dollars go farther.

Milton and Rose Friedman rightly argued that people are more likely to economize and maximize money when it’s their own, rather than someone else’s. The same principle applies to education, where parents have a greater incentive to maximize their education dollars than traditional public-school officials. 

Education savings accounts offer parents flexibility—funds can be used for education costs ranging from textbooks to educational tutoring and therapies, and unused funds roll over each year. This gives parents a powerful incentiveto economize and maximize the value of their education dollars to get the biggest bang for their buck.

10. School choice helps cultivate citizens. 

Private schools do a better job than traditional public schools at cultivating civic virtues in their students, such as civic participation and tolerance. They also tend to give more focus to character and moral formation, something parents value in schools, according to a recent EdChoice study

School choice creates greater opportunities for all children to have access to education that inculcates democratic values. 

One concrete example comes from New York, where low-income and minority students were more likely to register to vote and turn out in elections. 

Options are a good thing, especially when it comes to education. But today, most American parents remain at the whim of whatever district school they live in. 

Education choice gives students the opportunity to pick their own public school, charter school, private school, online learning option, private tutoring, or homeschooling option. 

As Nathan Hoffman recently put it

The best public school won’t work for every student. The best private school won’t work for every student. The best public-charter school won’t work for every student. The best virtual school won’t work for every student. It’s about having options.

Options mean liberty, and our education system needs more of it.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal