The modern debate over school choice—the right, freedom, and ability of parents to choose for their children the safest and best schools—first emerged as a public policy issue in the United States in the 1950s. However, it has taken over 40 years for the advocates of greater choice and competition in education to grow into a nationwide movement strong enough to attract the attention of policy makers at all levels of government.

Decades ago, the idea of allowing parents greater freedom to choose their children's schools was considered unnecessary, unrealistic, or even undesirable, but today it has moved front and center in discussions about how to improve education in Michigan and elsewhere. The repeated failure of political reforms to cure the ills of poorly performing government schools has led to widespread frustration among parents, students, teachers, and other education professionals. Citizens—whether black or white, rich or poor, urban or suburban, Democrat or Republican—are now demanding in increasing numbers the freedom to choose more and better alternatives to their local public schools. They are, in short, demanding greater school choice.

Such broad-based public support for fundamental educational reform makes it essential that parents, policy makers, teachers, and others concerned with the quality of education in Michigan understand the facts—and avoid the myths—surrounding school choice. This three-part primer is designed to educate and inform citizens about all aspects of school choice and equip them to participate in the debate as fully informed members of their communities. The primer

  • Provides a brief historical review of the origins and growth of tax-funded schools throughout the United States generally and how they came to be synonymous with "public education";

  • Examines the rise of government-funded and operated schools in Michigan through the efforts of Isaac Crary and John Pierce and describes the negative effects of a 1970 amendment to the state constitution that severely restricts parents' ability to exercise school choice;

  • Demonstrates the failure of many "popular" education reforms of the past and present—including ever-increasing funding—to significantly improve the quality of government education;

  • Explains the different types of school choice, including intra- and inter-district choice, charter schools, tuition vouchers and tax credits, universal tuition tax credits, and private scholarships;

    • Evaluates the progress of current school choice programs throughout the nation;

    • Identifies individuals and organizations who support, oppose, or are ambivalent to greater school choice for Michigan families; and

    • Outlines strategic plans that parents and other concerned citizens can follow to get involved in the effort to improve education through greater school choice for all Michigan children.

    Several appendices include a glossary which explains various choice terms and proposals including vouchers and tuition tax credits; a sample illustration of how to advocate school choice with letters to the editor of local newspapers; and a list of where to go for more information on school choice and other education issues.