Groups such as the Black Alliance for Educational Options and Democrats for Education Reform have embraced expanded school choice as a way to help students escape failing urban schools.
Gov. Rick Snyder aims to provide students with more learning
opportunities by increasing the number of charter schools, expanding the
“schools-of-choice” program and providing more access to online courses. While many
parents and students will benefit from these reforms, the governor and
Legislature shouldn’t settle for just these improvements. They should also
empower more parents to take advantage of the opportunities provided by
Michigan’s diverse array of private and independent schools.
The empirical evidence on voucher and tax credit programs is thoroughly one-sided: Nine of 10 random assignment studies of voucher programs show that student outcomes improve for participants.
The Wall Street Journal recently declared 2011 to be “The
Year of School Choice,” citing the fact that 13 states have created or expanded
their school choice initiatives so far this year. Most of these programs
provide publicly financed assistance to parents who enroll their kids in
private schools. In fact, three of these states border Michigan: Indiana
created the country’s largest school voucher program; Ohio tripled the size of
its voucher program; and Wisconsin expanded the Milwaukee voucher program and
created a new one as well.
In addition to the 13 states, 29 others are currently
considering legislation that would expand parents’ ability to opt for private
schools, according to the American Federation for Children. Among these states
are Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Iowa. Michigan is surrounded by
states ready to increase educational freedom, and, one of only eight states not
considering doing the same.
Gov. Snyder and the Legislature should adopt private school
choice as part of the education reform agenda for three simple reasons: Parents
want more options, voucher and tuition tax credit programs save money, and
research demonstrates that these programs improve outcomes for students in both
private and public schools.
More parents are recognizing that the school assigned to
them by the government is not necessarily the best fit for their kids.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the percentage of
students enrolled in a school of their parents’ choosing rose from 20 percent
in 1993 to 29 percent in 2007. Not surprisingly, parents participating in
private school choice programs consistently report that they are very satisfied
with their children’s schools.
Private school choice programs also save taxpayers money.
For instance, Arizona taxpayers paid on average about $8,500 per student
enrolled in their public schools in 2008, but only about $1,900 for each
student participating in that state’s tuition tax credit program. The voucher
program in Washington, D.C., costs taxpayers only about one-third as much per
pupil as the city’s public schools.
empirical evidence on voucher and tax credit programs is thoroughly one-sided: Nine
of 10 random assignment studies of voucher programs show that student outcomes
improve for participants. Of the 19 empirical studies testing the
impact of voucher programs on public school students, 18 found a positive
impact. When public schools are given incentives to improve or lose students to
competing private schools, they respond positively.
To be fair, bringing private school choice to Michigan is a
monumental task. This state’s constitution explicitly forbids the use of
publicly funded vouchers or tax credits to support private school enrollment.
Eliminating this 40-year-old restriction would require a ballot initiative,
which would be undeniably difficult. But it wouldn’t be impossible, especially
if there were gubernatorial and legislative leadership behind it.
Of course, there would be other obstacles to overcome.
Legally privileged government employee unions, like the Michigan Education
Association, view expanded parental choice as a threat to their monopoly of
taxpayer-funded schooling and will do just about anything to protect their
While these obstacles may seem insurmountable, other states
are obviously overcoming them, and in many cases doing so with bipartisan
support. School choice has become much less partisan in recent years as many
Democrats, especially those representing districts with a high number of
failing schools, recognize that school choice can provide an immediate benefit
to their constituents. Groups like Democrats for Education Reform and the Black
Alliance for Educational Options have been powerful advocates for more choice
Gov. Snyder has
repeatedly said that he wants to make Michigan into a welcoming environment for
businesses in order get this state’s economy back on track. The governor should
work to make Michigan an inviting place for parents as well, and the best way
to do that is to create more educational opportunities for their children.
Michael Van Beek is
director of educational policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a
research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich.
Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the
author and the Center are properly cited.