The Essence of School Choice: Maximum Flexibility and Freedom in Education for All Families

Vicki Alger

National School Choice Week is a celebration of education options of every stripe. Whether parents choose public district schools, public charter schools, private schools, online schools, or home schools, being empowered to pick the options they think are best for their children is what matters most. And the options parents have are growing every day:

The percentage of students attending chosen public schools instead of assigned ones has increased from 14 percent to nearly 19 percent since 1999.

There are now 65 non-public school educational choice programs in 30 states, including D.C. and Puerto Rico, helping close to 1.4 million students and families.

There are also 7,000 public charter schools educating more than 3.1 million students in 44 states, including D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico.

Additionally, more than 2.3 million students are being educated at home.

And, education savings account programs are available in six states, which are putting the parents of  nearly 19,000 students in charge of their children’s education funding so they can purchase the services and special education therapies that best meet their children’s unique needs.

All families, regardless of income or address, deserve maximum flexibility and freedom in education.

That message comes through loud and clear in IWF’s new video: School Choice: Experiences and Perspectives.

“I don’t necessarily think as parents we make a distinction about charter versus public versus private,” says parent Chander Jayraman. “You know, ultimately the core decision is about what’s best for my child.”

Parents know and love their children best, and the benefits of empowering more parents to choose their children’s education options are well documented by significant and growing body of research literature.

The vast majority of scholarly research using scientifically rigorous methods finds that educational choice programs result in higher K-12 student achievement (which is significant since children participating in educational choice programs are typically behind academically). They also increase the likelihood that participating students will graduate from high school, enroll in college, and earn their degrees.

Yet there’s a popular misconception that students who remain in public schools will suffer if other students use choice programs to leave for other schools. Not so.

Competition for students from choice programs actually benefits public-school students. Researchers from Columbia University Teachers College, for example, reviewed more than 200 analyses from 25 scientific studies on the effects of competition on public schools. They concluded that “a sizable majority of these studies report beneficial effects of competition across all outcomes,” especially higher graduation rates and improved spending efficiency. The majority of over 30 more recent studies also find that competition positively affects public-school student test scores.

But the benefits don’t stop there.

Other scientific research finds that educational choice improves civic values and participation, including civics knowledge, toleration, volunteerism, as well as voter registration and turnout. It also reduces school segregation, in part because students are free to attend schools regardless of where their families can afford to live.

Still, opponents frequently claim that states can’t afford educational choice programs. Again, not so.

Not one of the more than 40 rigorous fiscal impact studies conducted to date has found that private school choice programs result in a net cost. Quite the opposite. Three studies found, at worst, they were cost neutral, while 39 studies showed private school choice programs actually saved money.

What’s more public charter schools receive an average of 30 percent less funding per pupil than district public schools—increasing to nearly 50 percent less funding for urban charter schools in a number of major metropolitan areas. In spite of those disparities, parent demand often exceeds the supply of available seats, resulting in long waiting lists.

Parents free to choose their children’s schools are more satisfied, and a strong majority of Americans support parental choice in education.

 “At the end of the day a mom and a dad know their child better than anyone else,” says homeschool parent Will Estrada. “ Education is one of the most important things we will ever pass on to our children, and we want to make sure that we have the freedom to choose the best options for them as well.”

 



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