Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles about the myths of school choice. Check out all of our education resources here.
Some say that families have enough choices regarding their children’s schooling. But isn’t that for families to decide? How can one have too many quality options?
Let’s take a look at some of the facts about who has access to school choice, what the options are, and where we can go from here to give our children the best education possible.
After all, families with means have always had choices when it comes to their children’s education. Since the inception of public schools in the 1850s, they’ve had the option to move to a neighborhood with good schools or to pay tuition for private schools. Although Maine and Vermont have century-old voucher programs, most states did not begin to expand school choice to middle and lower income families until the late 1980s.
That’s when state legislatures began passing open enrollment laws to enable students to transfer to other schools within or outside of their home school district. Today most states, including Colorado, have open enrollment laws. In Colorado, students can transfer if there is space available and the school can accommodate any special needs they may have. It’s a good option if there are good schools with additional capacity nearby.
The 1980s also saw the legalization of home schooling. By 1993, all states permitted parents to teach their children at home subject to state laws regarding district notification and testing. It’s a good option if parents want to provide their own schooling.
In the 1990s, states began to adopt charter school laws. Colorado was one of the first to authorize these unique public schools. Today 43 states have charter school laws and 2.6 million students attend 6,633 charter schools.
To clear up any mischaracterizations, charter schools are:
- Public schools,
- Subject to state test and discrimination laws,
- Governed by an independent board,
- Publicly funded.
There are 238 charter schools in Colorado serving nearly 115,000 students. It’s a good option if there are good nearby charter schools nearby with space available.
The 1990s also saw the beginning of vouchers and tax credits/deductions for private school, although Minnesota and Iowa’s tax programs go back further. Today there are 60 programs in 28 states and Washington, DC.
States with voucher programs enable parents to use a portion of their state education funding to pay for tuition at a faith-based or secular private school. Some tax incentive programs give parents a deduction or credit for tuition payments. Others give individual or business donors credit for donations to scholarship funds. All of these types of programs have been upheld in court.
In the past few years, six states have adopted education savings accounts that provide parents with funds they can withdraw to support their student’s learning including online learning programs, private tutoring, community college, and other approved services and materials.
Vouchers, education tax credits/deductions, and education savings accounts provide parents with a full range of education options. Unfortunately, Colorado does not offer these options.
However, the Supreme Court just ordered the Colorado Supreme Court to revisit its decision to strike down a local voucher program in Douglas County in light of the high court’s ruling in support for public funding of faith-based service providers. In the likely event that the Douglas County program is ultimately ruled constitutional, families will have a fuller range of choices.
Students across Colorado benefit when districts and the state adopt voucher, education savings account, or tax credit programs thereby increasing families’ options. One cannot have enough good school choices.
What are your thoughts?
Should the government restrict or expand education options for families?
Update: This article originally stated that 40 states have a charter school law. The current number is 43.