School choice opponents are running out of excuses. For years they have tried to persuade us that school choice wasted tax-payers’ money, dismantled public schools, and skimmed the cream of the crop of students. How else to explain, in their words, why the private and charter school students were doing better than public school students?
But these arguments are crumbling in the wake of mounting evidence. The “skimming the cream of the crop” argument is destroyed by the fact that New York, and many other cities, use lotteries to determine who gets the coveted spots in the charter schools. Since the number of students in the lottery greatly exceeds the number of available spots, the public schools continue to benefit from those good students not chosen.
The latest information destroys the argument that school choice wastes taxpayers’ money. The truth is the opposite. Martin F. Lueken, writing in The Wall Street Journal, reports his recent fiscal analysis of 40 educational choice programs from their inceptions through fiscal 2018 found the programs cumulatively saved taxpayers up to $28.3 billion on net, or $7,500 per student. In other words, for every dollar spent on expanding educational opportunities for families via school choice programs, taxpayers saved about $2.80.
At the same time, public schools are also flush with cash as the federal government has directed $190 billion in pandemic relief funding – about $3,500 per student – making it hard to argue that public schools are suffering. Nevertheless, wherever school choice programs are introduced, opponents inevitably argue they harm public schools and students who remain in them by “draining” much-needed resources.
Lueken gives us some important statistics to consider. Despite these claims, the truth is only 2% of all publicly funded K-12 students in states where school choice programs operate participate in them, and these programs receive only 1 % of the funding for public K-12 education. It appears that private school choice programs are educating kids at half the cost of public schools.
There also seems to be a benefit for public school students in communities where school choice programs exist. A 2019 meta-analysis conducted by scholars at the University of Texas and elsewhere, concluded: “The lack of an overall negative impact on student outcomes might ease critics’ concerns that competition will hurt those students ‘left behind’ due to school choice policies.”
This destroys yet another argument of school choice opponents – that those students remaining in public schools are somehow harmed by these choice programs. The truth is that competition always leads to improved quality and lower costs – no matter what industry you are considering. Education is no exception.
Lueken says, “No one is siphoning resources, and the kids in both public and private schools wind up better off than before. If anything, public schools operating alongside private schools in a choice environment have more of an incentive to use their resources wisely and center their efforts on student retention.”
As a political issue, school choice is gaining ground. The Covid-19 pandemic has increased interest in school choice programs in many states and legislatures are expanding opportunities for these programs. Parental support in the U.S. for various school-choice policies ranged between 74% and 84%, according to a 2021 EdChoice poll.
Lueken concludes, “Whether it’s financial objections or philosophical ones, choice opponents are running out of reasons to object to these policies. As this legislative season shapes up to become a busier one than we typically see during an election year, state lawmakers have an opportunity to implement educational choice programs that put families first and save public dollars.”
With this new information, there is no good reason to oppose school choice unless you’re trying to protect bad teachers – as the teachers unions do. But now we can see that school choice programs not only help kids get ahead in this world with a better education, they also save the taxpayers’ money. What’s not to like?