When faced with both research and logic supporting policies empowering parents to choose the school that best fits their child’s needs, opponents of such liberty “usually appeal to philosophical arguments about the value of education as a public good,” writes Western Kentucky University education professor and Bluegrass Institute Scholar Gary Houchens, Ph.D. “Society, the economy, and American democracy benefit by a strong public investment in schools. Which is true, of course. But there is no reason to presume that, because education is a public good, it must necessarily be delivered to all children by a government-run school.”
Continuing this same vein of logic, Houchens notes other ways in which we provide public goods to poor families:
We recognize health as a public good too, but we don’t assume that we must get all of our health care from government-run hospitals and doctors’ offices.
We don’t tell families who receive food stamps which grocery store they must shop at to buy food.
We don’t tell Medicaid patients which doctor they have to visit for health care.
We don’t tell college students which university they must attend to use their Pell grant (or GI Bill).
Houchens notes it’s “patently unfair” and “inconsistent” to deny parents who can’t afford the same educational options that affluent families have “the most personal decision of all – who is going to educate your children.”
When it comes to the research, the good professor notes a 2013 report from the Friedman Foundation offering a comprehensive analysis of many high quality research studies showing mostly positive outcomes of school choice programs.
The Friedman report shows that out of 36 gold-standard research studies, 11 demonstrate positive outcomes for children who participate in school choice programs and 21 show positive outcomes for students who choose to remain in public schools within a larger school-choice environment. Two other studies showed no visible effects. None of the studies demonstrated a negative impact on students as a result of school choice policies.
Eighteen other studies analyzed in the report describe the impact of school choice programs on other important variables like racial segregation of schools, the fiscal impact on taxpayers, and civic values among students. Again, most studies showed positive outcomes on all counts, and none showed a negative impact.
Kentucky remains one of only a handful of states without at least one important parental school-choice option such as public charter schools or scholarship tax credits. This will change as we continue to empower Kentuckians with the data and the logic to make their own arguments that will, in the end, serve a multitude of low-income families.