School Choice 101: What to expect in The Trump Administration

girl_taking_test

Allison Kopp co-authored this post.

The battle over Betsy DeVos’ Senate confirmation as Education Secretary may be over, but the debate over school choice is just heating up.

DeVos’ contentious confirmation process demonstrated that school choice remains a polarizing and politicized issue. While education reforms like charter schools have enjoyed bi-partisan support and have been championed by growing number of Democrats, including President Barack Obama, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, and Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, DeVos’ staunch advocacy of issues like private school vouchers alarmed Democrats and activated teachers’ unions to push back against her nomination.

The extreme public scrutiny throughout DeVos’ confirmation process also created a lot of confusion about what school choice is—even among some policy makers. Now, with DeVos  leading the Department of Education and President Trump’s campaign pledge to direct $20 billion in federal education spending to school choice policies, it’s time to figure out what school choice means, the differences between private school choice and public charter schools, and where public education fits in.

First, what is school choice?

School choice means that parents have the option to send their children to schools other than their designated public schools.  In some states, public education dollars flow with students to the schools or services that parents choose—whether that’s to a public school, private school, charter school, online school or home school.

School choice options are determined by state legislation.  Today, more than half of states offer private school choice options, and 43 states and the District of Columbia provide a choice of more than 6,800 charter schools, that educate nearly 3 million children.

What is the difference between Charter Schools and Private School Choice (PSC)?

Charter schools are publicly funded, independently run schools. Unlike district schools, leaders of public charter schools are given the freedom to make key decisions about staffing, budgets, curriculum and the length of the school day at the school level, rather than having those decisions made by a district central office – and in most cases are not bound by union collective bargaining agreements. In exchange for greater freedom, charter schools face stricter standards for improving student achievement. And if charter schools fail to meet those standards, they are closed, which some argue can lead to greater accountability.

Advocates contend that because charters are able to operate outside of top-down district mandates, they can become centers of innovation and empower talented principals and teachers with the freedom needed to help students succeed. Detractors voice concern that charter schools drain funding from the public schools that need it most. And, while most charter operators are nonprofits, critics raise eyebrows about the for-profit operators that they believe have failed to perform.

It’s also worth noting that unlike PSC, the charter school movement – which picked up steam in the 1990s – typically receives bipartisan support.

Private School Choice (PSC) generally refers to three types of programs to fund voucher programs that parents can use to pay for private school tuition—state-funded scholarship vouchers, tax credit scholarships funded by corporations or individuals, or Education Savings Accounts (or ESAs) that store a child’s state education dollars. Advocates argue vouchers will create more accountability and parent engagement, and allow for every child to have access to high quality education—no matter their zip code. Detractors argue that this drains money from public schools and results in back door federal funding of religious private schools. Some studies have shown that around 85 percent of all students attending a voucher-accepting private school go to a religiously oriented school. Private school choice tends to appeal more to right-of-center legislators.

Education Commission of the States (ECS) developed a helpful glossary about the various forms of school choice.

What is the impact of School Choice on Public Schools?

The idea behind school choice is to provide options for families, especially low-income parents, if their neighborhood schools are under-performing, and to create competition so that district public schools are pushed to improve their performance. The question is: does choice help or hinder access to a quality education for all students?

Many school choice advocates also believe that with greater choice brings new education innovators and entrepreneurs to the table that can help tackle some of our most pressing education problems, and this in turn can revitalize communities and help improve public schools.

There is more evidence on the impact of charter schools on public schools, while we may not truly know the impact of private school choice until there are more private school choice programs. Although some studies have found that vouchers are associated with improved test scores in affected public schools.

What’s next?

The debate over the pros and cons of school choice will likely intensify, and the public confusion and lack of understanding about charter schools and private school choice will only muddy a critical debate about how we shape our nation’s education system.

Despite the heated rhetoric, both charter schools and private school advocates face the most favorable legislative environment than they have to date.

 

Tagged In

Education

School Choice 101: What to expect in The Trump Administration

girl_taking_test

Allison Kopp co-authored this post.
The battle over Betsy DeVos’ Senate confirmation as Education Secretary may be over, but the debate over school choice is just heating up.
DeVos’ contentious confirmation process demonstrated that school choice remains a polarizing and politicized issue. While education reforms like charter schools have enjoyed bi-partisan support and have been championed by growing number of Democrats, including President Barack Obama, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, and Colorado Senator Michael Bennet, DeVos’ staunch advocacy of issues like private school vouchers alarmed Democrats and activated teachers’ unions to push back against her nomination.
The extreme public scrutiny throughout DeVos’ confirmation process also created a lot of confusion about what school choice is—even among some policy makers. Now, with DeVos  leading …

Continue reading >

Tagged In

Education

The Intersection

The Intersection is an in-depth series designed to help you anticipate and prepare for public policy challenges and opportunities.

View the Intersection

The latest from the blog

April 12, 2017  by VOX Global

This is What F-Minus CSR Looks Like

See all posts >