As School Choice Programs Grow, We Must Debunk Myths About How Choice Works

a torn piece of brown paper reveals the words 'myths & facts' on a white paper underneath

Charles Spurgeon, the 19th century’s “Prince of Preachers,” said in a sermon, “A lie will go around the world while truth is pulling its boots on.”[1] And in our age of social media, myths often travel faster than realities. As we celebrate National School Choice Week, myths abound concerning educational choice programs such as vouchers, scholarship tax credits, and education savings account programs.

Those who oppose empowering parents to choose from a wide array of educational options, including private schools and service providers, promote various myths to deter policymakers from enacting choice programs. These myths include the notion that school choice programs take money from an already underfunded public school system; that choice programs fail to improve academic outcomes for participating students; that choice programs do not lead to better outcomes in traditional public schools; and, of course, that by allowing parents to enroll their children in religious, as well as nonreligious schools, choice programs violate constitutional principles of separation of church and state.

As Jay Greene explains: “Myths aren’t lies. They’re beliefs that people adopt because they have an air of plausibility . . . . But of course, myths aren’t true ─ or at least they’re not the whole truth.” As the nation’s leading law firm defending school choice program, the Institute for Justice (IJ), has a desire to ensure that the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is understood when it comes to school choice. This is why we published 12 Myths and Realities about Private Educational Choice Programs. The report identifies, examines, and debunks many of the myths surrounding private educational choice programs – including the myths detailed above.

Take the myth that school choice programs take money from already underfunded schools. In reality, out of the 28 empirical studies of the fiscal impact of school choice programs on taxpayers and public schools, not one found a negative fiscal impact. Moreover, inflation-adjusted funding for traditional public schools has skyrocketed in the past 40 years, with no appreciable learning gains, and there is no evidence to suggest that spending even more would produce better educational outcomes.

As for student achievement, the overwhelming preponderance of evidence demonstrates that educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for those who participate in the programs. And academic performance is just one measure of student achievement. Choice programs also positively impact high school graduation rates, college enrollment, civic engagement, crime rates, and improve parental and student satisfaction.

There is also abundant evidence that school choice programs encourage traditional public schools to improve. Indeed, there have been at least 33 empirical studies of the effects of educational choice programs on public schools. The overwhelming majority—31—have found that choice programs have a positive effect on public schools. A single study found no effect while only one found a negative effect.

And as a result of cases litigated by IJ, the U.S. Supreme Court and numerous state courts have held that religiously neutral educational choice programs that give parents a genuine choice as to where to send their children to school pass constitutional muster. Indeed, in nearly every state in the nation, school choice is a constitutionally viable policy option.

Educational choice programs in 26 states, the District of Columbia, and the territory of Puerto Rico already give tens of thousands of children opportunities that were previously out of reach. But more needs to be done. It is essential that policymakers have easy access to the abundant sources of information and data that confirm school choice programs are not only constitutional, but that they improve the lives of America’s youth.

[1] https://www.ccel.org/ccel/spurgeon/sermons01.xvi.html

 

Tim Keller leads the Institute for Justice’s Educational Choice Team, overseeing a talented group of attorneys and staff who help policymakers design constitutionally defensible educational choice programs and who defend those programs in courtrooms nationwide.

Note: This blog is in a series of posts to highlight and recognize National School Choice Week. Every year in January, all across America, students, parents, teachers, state legislators, and more celebrate National School Choice Week. This week recognizes the importance of empowering parents to choose the best learning environment for their child, while highlighting the benefits of various education options. The U.S. Department of Education is excited to celebrate education choice. There are currently 54 private school choice programs operating in 26 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. In order to continue to empower families with information that will help them advocate for a better education for their child, this week we will describe and explain the growing array of education options, highlight resources to choose the best learning environment for a child, and dispel common school choice myths.