School Choice in the United States

16 août 2022

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In 2015, the 25 wealthiest districts in the U.S. spent $1,500 more on average per student than the 25 poorest districts according to a study conducted by the Obama administration.[1] This major disparity is just one of the many reasons why school choice is needed for students and parents. School choice is a program where families can apply for a school voucher. If a family meets a set of criteria, they receive a voucher from the government that allows the family to switch to a school of their choice. Through school choice, families can choose the schools they send their child to and ensure a better education and future for their children. At the time of this article’s writing, school choice has provided 608,000 children with a quality education in the United States.[2] Without school choice, there are limited alternatives for parents who are unhappy with public schools in their district.

Parents living in underfunded districts need options to choose the school that best suits their needs. Otherwise, they are forced to opt for local public schools that may not suit the needs of their children. Greenwich, Connecticut, which is a wealthy area, is currently facing a lawsuit as it was found that the area spent $6,000 more per student than areas like nearby Bridgeport. [3] This example illustrates how residents of economically disadvantaged areas miss out on many educational opportunities simply because they are not given the same resources as those of other areas. As a result, many low-income families often have to relocate so they can access a better quality of education. The school choice program employs strict criteria that all schools must meet in order to be a part of the program. These criteria ensure that children receive adequate funding and do not miss out on educational opportunities.

Why school choice matters
Every parent has a different vision for their children’s education. Parents may have a child with a disability, or they may want to place emphasis on a subject or religion. The government should not limit the choice of parents to just their local public school. No one school can meet the needs of every parent. The school choice program is meant for poorer communities to have the ability to send their children to a better school. A survey of parents in Milwaukee Florida found that parents with a higher income were more likely to send their children to public school than lower income families.[4] This suggests that children who are wealthier tend to live in better neighborhoods and attend better funded schools. This mitigates the need for the wealthy to opt for private school services. On the other hand, lower-income families tend to enroll their children in a private school at a higher percentage due to the safety of the area or the lower quality of the public schools in the area. This means that low-income families will often send their children to schools that they cannot necessarily afford, simply to get away from their local public school. The same survey also found that most beneficiaries of the school choice program were historically disenfranchised groups. Therefore, increasing the availability of school choice would benefit economically marginalized groups. Furthermore, a program in Washington D.C. using school choice vouchers saw many benefits, including an increase in graduation rates by 21%. [5]

Those who oppose school choice often present the argument that it is better to improve public schools rather than promote private education. This criticism fails to acknowledge that the point of school choice is not to promote private education or diminish the effects of public education. It is to let economically marginalized families choose an education that best suits their child. We can improve public schools while also implementing school choice to ensure that parents have a variety of options.

How can school choice be made possible?
The cost of school choice programs often poses a barrier to wider implementation. However, a study on a school choice program in Washington D.C. concluded that every dollar spent on school choice programs yielded a return of $2.62 through future taxes.6 There are many different forms of school choice, with tax credit scholarship programs being the most widely used. Through these programs, individuals can receive tax credits when they donate to nonprofit organizations that give scholarships to students to attend a private school. These organizations also provide grants to public schools and transportation to students who are unable to commute. This program is already in effect in 32 U.S. states.[6] Alternatively, programs that provide student choice vouchers are also effective. These vouchers offer to pay a percentage or the full amount of private school tuition for qualifying families.[7]

The way forward
School choice is effective at increasing graduation rates, ensuring that disenfranchised groups get a high-quality education, and providing the government a return on investment. For too long, families have had to rely on relocation to better school districts. This is a privilege that only the economically secure can afford. It is time for the U.S. government to ensure more opportunity for lower-income families to access higher-quality education.

 

References

Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton on Unsplash

[1] Jill Barshay, “A Decade of Research on Education Inequality in America,” The Hechinger Report, June 29, 2020, https://hechingerreport.org/a-decade-of-research-on-the-rich-poor-divide-in-education.

[2] EdChoice, November 23, 2021, https://www.edchoice.org/.

[3] “Per-Student Spending on Education during the 2014-15 School Year,” Map template, accessed March 16, 2022, https://projects.ctmirror.org/maps/index.html?d=Perstudentspendingoneducationduringthe201415schoolyear0112016172039.

[4] Jason Bedrick and Lindsey Burke, “Surveying Florida Scholarship Families – EdChoice,” EdChoice, accessed February 27, 2022, https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/2018-10-Surveying-Florida-Scholarship-Families-byJason-Bedrick-and-Lindsey-Burke.pdf.

[5] Patrick J. Wolf and Michael McShane, “Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze? A Benefit/Cost Analysis of the District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program,” Education Finance and Policy 8, no 1 (2013), https://doi.org/10.1162/EDFP_a_00083.

[6] EdChoice, accessed August 10, 2022, https://www.edchoice.org/.

[7] What Are School Vouchers?” EdChoice, June 28, 2021, https://www.edchoice.org/school-choice/types-of-school-choice/what-are-school-vouchers-2/.

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Jaireet Chahal

Jaireet Chahal currently lives in Canada and studies at Lynn Rose College. He enjoys reading books about political and social theory and hopes to one day write his own book. He also enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction and he hopes to change the world through his work.