Putting the Pieces in Place for School Choice

Big picture points to more hopeful action

The seventh edition of National School Choice Week has arrived. This year brings the largest organized effort yet to shine “a positive spotlight on effective education options for every child.” Nationally, there are more than 21,000 events planned — 730 of them in Michigan alone, including a major Detroit celebration on Friday featuring the passionate, charismatic educator, Dr. Steve Perry.

The week is a time to reflect on the big picture of educational choice, including some key facets that have been highlighted within this past year:

  • The evidence that school choice works continues to mount. Last May, the advocacy group EdChoice updated the tally of gold-standard research on private school choice. The vast majority of 100 published studies shows that choice programs benefit their participants, public schools, state treasuries and society at large. Here in Michigan, where public funding of private school choice is banned, the best available research shows charter public schools help students learn more than traditional public schools, especially in Detroit. Work being done by  the University of Michigan’s long-standing Charter School Research Project will provide us with more information.
  • School choice remains popular with Michigan voters, and even more so nationally. The Mackinac Center released survey results in August showing strong majorities of Michigan voters in favor of nearly all forms of choice and rejecting the argument that choice hurts public schools. Half the Detroiters polled say the city’s students need more educational options. More recently, a poll sponsored by the American Federation for Children finds a consistently strong and diverse majority of American voters back school choice. In both the state and national measures of public opinion, the idea of tax-credit scholarships registered the strongest positive numbers.
  • Michigan families are seeking out education alternatives in record numbers. MLive’s 2016 reporting of state data found that nearly one in four Michigan public school students had enrolled in a school other than the one assigned to them based on where they live. Meanwhile, parents of 113,000 other students have found the means to pay tuition at a private school or to secure a spot at an exceptional place like Detroit Cristo Rey.
  • The movement for school choice has reached a critical moment of opportunity. Roughly 3 million students in 43 states and the District of Columbia are enrolled in public charter schools. The number of school choice program participants, meanwhile, has grown dramatically in recent years, and now includes nearly 400,000 students in 25 states who benefit from an educational voucher, tax-credit scholarship or education saving account. While many state legislatures consider launching or expanding choice programs of their own, the United States Senate weighs a confirmation vote on the nomination of influential choice advocate Betsy DeVos to serve as secretary of education. Despite our onerous state constitution, opportunities exist at the federal level to help expand choice in Michigan.

Put the pieces together, and this National School Choice Week offers a chance not only for reflection and celebration but also for action that gives an unprecedented number of students access to effective education options.

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