Explainer: What you should know about ‘school choice’
Religion & Liberty Online

Explainer: What you should know about ‘school choice’

In honor of the seventh annual National School Choice Week, here are some facts you should know about school choice in America.

What does “school choice” mean?

The term “school choice” refers to programs that give parents the power and opportunity to choose the schools their children attend, whether public, private, parochial, or homeschool.

Why is school choice necessary?

While there are some excellent public schools in America, many students are trapped in schools with inadequate facilities, substandard curriculum, and incompetent teachers. Most parents, however, cannot afford to pay for education twice—once in taxes and again in private school tuition. School choice programs empower parents by letting them use public funds set aside for education on programs that will best serve their children.

What types of school choice programs exist for students and families?

From School Choice Explained:

Open enrollment – refers to educational policies which allow residents of a state to enroll their children in any public school, provided the school has not reached its maximum capacity number for students, regardless of the school district in which a family resides.

Vouchers – a certificate issued by the government, which parents can apply toward tuition at a private school (or, by extension, to reimburse home schooling expenses), rather than at the state school to which their child is assigned.

Tuition tax credits and deductions – Parents can receive a tax credit or tax deduction from state income taxes for approved educational expenses. This usually includes private school tuition as well as books, supplies, computers, tutors, and transportation.

Tax-credit scholarships – Individuals and/or corporations receive a tax credit from state taxes for making donations to nonprofit organizations, which use the donated money to fund private school scholarships for students.

Education Savings Accounts – Parents are allowed to withdraw their child from a public district or charter school, and receive a payment into a government-authorized savings account with restricted, but multiple uses. Parents then can use these funds to pay for private school tuition, virtual education programs, private tutoring, or save for future college expenses.

Charter schools – Charter schools are independent public schools that are exempt from many state and local rules and regulations in exchange for increased financial and academic accountability.

Online schools – Online schools can be run publicly or privately, allowing students to work with their curriculum and teachers over the internet—in combination with, or in place of, traditional classroom learning.

Homeschooling – An alternative form of education for children outside of public or private schools, typically within their own homes.

Which states allow homeschooling?

In the U.S., homeschooling is legal in all 50 states.

Which states have school choice programs?

The states that currently offer some form of school choice are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Washington, D.C. also has a school choice program.

Are charter schools constitutional?

While interpretations may vary, courts have consistently ruled that wherever a state legislature is tasked with the authority to establish and fund public education, it may create systems for the establishment of other public schools without violating the Constitution. Charter schools’ constitutionality has been upheld by courts in more than a dozen states, including California, Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio.

How does school choice affect educational outcomes?

In a review of all the “gold standard” evaluations of school choice programs in the U.S., researchers found that nine of the 10 studies revealed positive, albeit generally modest, academic improvement for school choice students.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).