With Record Growth in School Choice Programs, Myths About How Choice Works Are Debunked

Institute for Justice · August 23, 2017

Arlington, Va.—As students return to class this fall, more students than ever will have access to programs that empower parents to choose private educational options, rather than public schools assigned to them based on their zip code. Yet, despite a proven history of satisfying students and parents that now stretches back two and a half decades, myths about private school choice programs persist. Parents who want their kids to escape the one-size-fits-all public school monopoly often face a blizzard of misinformation put forward by teachers’ unions working to cloud the debate and thus maintain their control over, not only how students are educated, but where they are educated as well.

In a new report released today, “12 Myths and Realities about Private Educational Choice Programs,” Institute for Justice (IJ) Senior Attorney Tim Keller identifies, examines and debunks many of the myths surrounding education choice.

“Educational choice programs give tens of thousands of children opportunities that were previously out of reach,” said Keller, who is a principal architect of Education Savings Accounts and has successfully defended educational choice programs before the U.S. Supreme Court and numerous state supreme courts. “Access to the best schools shouldn’t depend on your zip code or your income, yet opponents peddle myths to lock in place an educational system that routinely fails those most in need of help. Educational choice gives parents access to resources that allow them to vote with their feet on which school best serves their children’s educational needs.”

Popular education choice myths include the false notion that choice programs take money from “already-underfunded public school systems.” In fact, there have been 28 studies of the fiscal impact of educational choice programs on taxpayers and public schools; not one of those studies found a negative fiscal impact. Similarly, there is a misconception that school choice programs will wreak havoc on academic achievement in our nation’s public schools and will only serve affluent families. The reality is there have been 34 studies of the effects of educational choice program on public schools. The overwhelming majority—32—have found that choice programs have a positive effect on public schools. Moreover, educational choice programs primarily aid disadvantaged students, especially those with special needs or from low-income backgrounds.

Educational choice programs shift power from the bureaucrats at state departments of education, as well as school districts and unions, and return that power to where it should be: in the hands of parents. Unsurprisingly, this means some of its fiercest opposition comes from the very districts and unions that stand to lose the most influence from the expansion of academic freedom. But IJ recognizes—and this report confirms—that families know better than government officials what kind of educational environment will best suit their children’s needs.

“From Arizona to Florida to New Hampshire to Tennessee, educational choice programs demonstrated tremendous success,” Keller added. “Part of their success is putting pressure on the traditional public school systems to start providing higher-quality education to students. Different families and different states have experimented with different schools and different programs, and they’re reaping the rewards. This is exciting news for all Americans invested in the future of our country.”