Choice in education refers to the right of parents, based on their personal assessment of what is best for their child, to select any public, private, or home school for their child, and for private and parochial school students, the right to education funded by tax dollars, tax credits, tax deductions, tuition waivers, grants or other means.
The Educational Establishment
Choice in education is strongly opposed by both the National Education Association and all of its state-based counterparts, including the Idaho Education Association. These teacher unions perceive choice in education as a threat. In actuality, choice in education improves education by:
Questions About Choice In Education
The national cost for private education, per pupil, is significantly less than the per pupil cost for public education. Current real-dollar spending, adjusted for inflation, has increased an average 30 percent per year in public schools, grades K-12, while public school academic achievement has continued to decline. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the national average cost per public school pupil is $6,857 per year. The majority of nongovernment schools, which far exceed the public schools academically, cost less per student per year with additional discounted tuition and tuition waivers for multiple children from the same family. In many cases, private religious schools are subsidied, which holds down the tuition costs.
Even assuming the premise implied by the question, public education as a unifying factor which is molding a strong nation is almost dead. Instead, any public schools have become places of violence, drugs, crime, immorality, political correctness, intimidation, and fear rather than seed-beds for training a strong, cohesive, patriotic citizenry. Choice in education lets parents pursue the American dream of getting out of poverty and blending in to the American success story.
This will happen only if public schools refuse to change or improve when faced with declining student populations. Surveys indicate that most parents would prefer to leave their children in a neighborhood public school if they felt it was doing a good job. Choice in education would provide the needed impetus for public schools to improve, and would give good reason for parents to leave their children in such schools.
Choice actually expands the options for special-needs children by granting them access to programs specifically tailored for their special need.
Every national poll has indicated that the general public favors school choice. Both the Business Week/Harris and Gallup polls have registered 69 percent to 85 percent positive public responses to school choice, even when parochial schools were included as part of the question.
The primary legal objection raised against full school choice is that it might violate the separation of church and state. The response to that objection revolves around the funding mechanisms proposed.
In Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills School District, the Court held that government programs which neutrally provide benefits to a broad class of citizens defined without reference to religion are not readily subject to an Establishment Clause challenge just because sectarian instituitions may also receive an attenuated financial benefit.
Mueller v. Allen upheld the constitutionality of tax credits for education expenses even though 90 percent of the funds went to parents whose children attended sectarian schools.
Witters v. Washington Department of Services for the Blind upheld the right of Washington to give financial assistance to a blind student studying for the pastoral ministry, since any money which went to the school did so “only as a result of the genuinely independent and private choices of aid recipients.”
On June 28, 2000, in Mitchell v, Helms, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its sixth consecutive decision upholding aid for students in religious schools or involved in religious activities. The Court ruled that the state of Louisiana had not violated the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution by providing computers and other materials to students in Catholic and other religious schools on Jefferson Parish, Louisiana. The Court explicitly overturned two adverse past precedents that prohibited the same kind of equipment materials provision to religious schools (Meck v. Pittenger) and (Wolman v Walter). The Court held that any neutral program that treats public and religious schools in an evenhanded manner would be found constitutional.
School Choice and Accountability
A number of successful, privately funded school choice plans have been implemented across the United States, demonstrating that the objections to the concept of school choice are not rationally based.
Ultimately, “the best mechanism for accountability is the marketplace, monitored and controlled by consumers acting in their own self-interest.” The key to introducing a successful school-choice plan is careful drafting to avoid legal issues, a massive public information campaign to overcome the educational bureaucracy opposition, and the inclusion of mechanisms which effectively make local teachers and administrators accountable to local parents.
Compiled by the Alabama Policy Institute.
Prepared by Cornerstone Family Council, a non-profit, non-partisan research and education organization. Nothing contained herein should be construed as an effort to aid or hinder any legislation.