School choice can take political fights out of education

If you live in a state that held primaries last week, you’re probably fed up with political ads. In my state of Pennsylvania, millions have been spent on the gubernatorial race alone — and millions more will be spent ahead of the general election in November.

Much of the contention in these races revolved around education issues. From teaching sex ed in the early grades to lessons on racial issues to COVID-19 policies, education is a hot topic. Since opinions on these issues often coincide with parties, general elections are likely to be even more contentious.

What if there was a better way? What if we could eliminate most political fights from education?

We can. The current winner-take-all system forces parents to engage in political battles to give their children the education they deem best. But when one group of parents “wins”, it means that another group loses.

School choice, that is, letting education money follow children to the option that suits them best, is the solution. When parents can choose where and how their children will be educated, they are no longer at the mercy of politicians and bureaucrats. This means that they do not have to rely on political battles when it comes to education.

In addition, the school choice is very popular among parents and voters in general. Consider Education Savings Accounts (ESA). ESAs are the most flexible form of school choice, allowing parents to earmark some of their children’s education funding for things like tutoring, tuition, curriculum and services for children. children with special needs. Parental support for ESAs has been 84-86% in recent years.

But parental choice in education is not only good policy; it is a good policy. Examining almost 170 empirical studies on the impacts of school choice shows very strong positive impacts – on test scores, educational attainment, parent satisfaction, civic practices, and fiscal effects. Very few studies (6.5%) showed negative impacts.

So why don’t most states offer widespread school choice if there is strong support and it works well?

Teachers’ unions are the biggest obstacle to widespread school choice. In addition to supporting applicants who oppose school choice, they actively work to campaign to stop school choice legislation in the states.

Beyond that, most people grew up attending their district’s school, so it’s easy to think that’s how education works. But the origin of assigning children to schools based on where they live is not a magic formula designed to ensure the best possible education. The reason for residential assignment is quite simple: the system was designed in the 1800s, when travel and communications were very difficult.

We haven’t faced these limitations for a long time. And after schools close in response to COVID-19, parents are seeing how many options there really are when it comes to education. Pandemic groups, microschools, hybrid schools and other private schools – parents who have never looked beyond their local district school are suddenly seeing education in a new light. And many want to stick with these new options.

School choice policies can ensure parents of all incomes have access to these new options. By letting education funding follow students, rather than being locked into one system, families will be able to choose the education that is right for them.

Education has major impacts on children throughout their lives. Given state mandates and taxpayer funding of education in the United States, the ability to decide what that education looks like should not be reserved for the wealthy. It should be noted that the United States is an exception in its reliance on assigned schooling. In most democratic countries, parents can use public funding for a variety of school options, including religious schools.

Last year was widely dubbed “the year of education choice,” with new or expanded education choice policies passed in 18 states. This year has been quieter so far — while dozens of school choice bills have been introduced, only a few have been signed into law.

But the parents do not leave. They know they need different options to meet their children’s needs and they learn to advocate for those options. By enacting more policies that allow education funding to follow students, legislators can help families get the education they need while reducing political conflict.

Colleen Hroncich is a policy analyst at the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute.

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