Out of Control Policy Blog

School Choice Lifts All Boats

A study released today by the Milton Friedman Foundation

of the new Ohio Educational Choice Scholarship program's effect on public schools has found academic gains among students in participating public schools; this suggests that the threat of competition and losing students is causing these public schools to improve their academic outcomes, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and several Ohio and national educational organizations announced today.

"While the purpose of the EdChoice program is to allow students from chronically distressed public schools to attend private schools, our research indicates that those underperforming public schools are showing improvement as well," said Robert Enlow, Executive Director of the Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which commissioned the study. "This study helps refute the notion, often cited by school choice critics that voucher programs harm public schools."

In 2006-07, its first year of operation, the EdChoice program produced substantial academic improvements in Ohio's most stubbornly underperforming public schools. Positive effects were detected in three grades, and no negative effects were detected in any of the other seven grades studied.

This is good news because as the Reason Foundation's Annual Privatization Report 2008 reports, school choice programs are increasing in the United States through the bipartisan efforts of state legislators:

Across the nation, Democrats are helping make 2008 a banner year for school choice, allowing parents to select the schools that are best-suited for their kids.

Student enrollment in private school choice programs, which include school voucher programs and scholarship tax credit programs, has increased by 84 percent over five years, according to the School Choice Yearbook 2007. In 2007, legislators in 40 states introduced legislation to advance private school choice programs.

In 2008, the five states with the largest school choice programs are Florida (39,000 students), Pennsylvania (38,000 students), Arizona (28,000 students), Wisconsin (19,000 students), and Ohio (14,000 students). The eight programs that have been enacted within the last three years are off to a strong start, with nearly 19,000 children participating in 2007-08 school year. The evidence shows that school choice is on the rise throughout the country–with every program in existence continuing to demonstrate solid year-to-year student enrollment growth.

While Republicans may still be the lead sponsors of most school choice legislation, they are passing new programs with the help of their Democratic colleagues. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, former Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry wrote, "I know it may surprise some that I would support a school voucher program, but I am proud to do so." Three quarters of legislative victories for school choice over the past two years came because of Democratic support.

In 2006, Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D) signed a big expansion of the Milwaukee voucher program. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano (D) allowed the creation of a tax-credit scholarship program and signed two new voucher programs into law. In Iowa, a new tax-credit scholarship program gained overwhelming Democratic support and Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) signed it into law. Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) signed a $10 million expansion of his state's tax-credit scholarship program that provides disadvantaged children with scholarships to private schools.

In Florida, only one Democrat voted for the corporate tax credit program to provide scholarships to low-income children in 2001. By 2008, however, when the legislature passed a $30 million expansion of the "Step up for Students" corporate tax credit program for private school scholarships with the help of a third of the Democratic caucus. The program provides scholarships to 20,000 students with about 64 percent Black and Hispanic students. Apparently, the Democrats took note because 13 of 25 members of the state's black caucus and every member of the Hispanic caucus voted for the expansion. The program will now provide students with 5,000 new scholarships to private schools.

The full education section of the Annual Privatization Report 2008 is here.

Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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