What is School Choice?
How do you feel about school choice?
by Countable | 9.7.19
It’s that time of year you may have dreaded as a kid — back to school season. The last few glorious weeks of summer break are slipping away, parents are buying school supplies, and kids are trying to savor their remaining homework-free days.
But for families who are trying to find the best possible academic option for their students, it’s also a time to evaluate which school would be the best fit for their child and whether it’s possible for them to attend a different school.
In many communities, school choice policies give students the ability to attend a different school than they’re assigned to by their district. While there are nuances to how school choice has been implemented in different places and it has both advocates and detractors, we wanted to clarify the debate for you.
What is school choice?
Generally speaking, school choice refers to programs that give students and their families alternatives to the public school system. 42 states plus the District of Columbia have decided to allow the creation of charter schools that operate independently of the traditional school district structure and are held to higher accountability standards in exchange for their autonomy.
A total of 27 states plus D.C. have school choice programs that offer support and incentives for parents to choose private schools in place of public schools. These programs can take on a variety of forms, such as offering school vouchers to cover the cost of attendance at a private school, scholarship tax credits, and personal tax incentives.
Why is it popular?
It gives parents more control over their child’s education by letting them choose a school that’s the best fit for their student, whether it’s a religious school, a school that focuses on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills, or one that teaches practical skills for the workforce.
Supporters of school choice argue that giving families choices in the education of their children creates competition that forces failing schools to adapt or else they’ll lose too many students and potentially face closure. It also enables families to leverage the school’s need for students to find the best possible environment for their child.
Additionally, school choice can give students from lower-income backgrounds who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend a private school because of the expense an opportunity to be in a better academic environment without worrying about the cost.
Why is it controversial?
As students choose to leave public schools through school choice programs, those schools can face reductions in the funding they receive because they have fewer students. In school districts where funding is already tight, that can make it even more difficult for struggling schools to improve their performance and attract more students.
There are also concerns that charter schools can evolve into for-profit schools focused on generating profits rather than providing the best possible experience for students. Given that charter schools are a relatively new development (the first state to authorize them was Minnesota in 1992), some worry that the government hasn’t yet developed regulations to ensure that schools benefiting from school choice programs don’t look to simply profit off of their students.
Other detractors have pointed out that if a student chooses to leave a public school for a religious private or charter school and their family receives a voucher or tax incentive, public resources essentially flow to a religious entity. They claim that this violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, which forbids the federal government from promoting religion in public policy.
Tell your reps
Does Congress need to adopt policies that promote school choice nationwide? Or should such policies be reevaluated by the states and communities that have adopted them?
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / Django)
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