I'm proud to serve on the board of directors for a new 501(c)(3) non-profit organization called EdChoice Kentucky which advocates expanding educational options for all families in the Commonwealth. An op-ed co-authored by members of the EdChoice board of directors appeared in last Sunday's Courier-Journal. Excerpt:
Few know that we have school choice in Kentucky—for those who can afford it. Wealthy and upper-middle-class parents have the financial means to send their child to a school of their choice or move to a different district when their assigned public school fails to meet their child’s needs.
But for Kentucky’s middle- and low-income families who lack the means to move or go private, school choice is not an option. A family’s income or ZIP code should not dictate their children’s future. Middle- and low-income students should have the same opportunities as their more affluent peers. Kentucky’s education system is unjust and change is necessary.
The commentary goes on to discuss the major legislative focus for EdChoice Kentucky this year: a bill that would provide a tax credit for private donations to scholarship funds that support low-income families to attend the school of their choice. You can read more about that proposal in this post and hear me discuss it in my recent interview on WKYU-PBS "Outlook" here.
EdChoice Kentucky will formally launch its statewide push for the tuition assistance tax credit proposal at a special kick-off event in Louisville on Tuesday, October 13, at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time at the Hurstbourne Business Center, 9300 Shelbyville Road, Suite 1210. Members of the coalition will speak, plus the event is slated to feature families who already benefit, or could directly benefit, from tuition assistance programs like those addressed in the bill. You can email me or Kaylee Carnahan, firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. A website and Facebook page for EdChoice will be launched at the event, but you can already follow the coalition on Twitter.
I want to follow up on the arguments laid out in Sunday's op-ed with a couple of points on the research and the philosophy behind school choice.
Our op-ed cites a 2013 report from the Friedman Foundation on the positive outcomes of school choice programs. You can access that full report here, and you'll see that it is a comprehensive analysis of a multitude of high-quality research studies. This is important because opponents of school choice will often claim there is little evidence that school choice policies really make a difference in student learning. But those who would stand in the way of families selecting the best school for their child's needs are the ones who have to cherry-pick from research to support their argument.
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.
When faced with this kind of evidence, opponents of school choice usually appeal to philosophical arguments about the value of education as a public good. 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. (See my arguments to this effect here and here, plus an case for how non-public schools actually help support a vibrant democracy here).
As our Courier-Journal op-ed argues, affluent families already have school choice. It is only the poor and middle class who have few, if any options, and there is no reason to assume that only government-run schools can meet the needs of these 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.
There are many great public schools in Kentucky, and when families are happy with their assigned public school, they certainly should be able to choose it. But every family is unique, and so our communities benefit from a rich marketplace of educational options that can meet all those individual needs. EdChoice Kentucky believes our public policies should support that kind of diversity in school choices.
Watch for more updates on this effort in coming weeks.
As always, my work on public policy issues is my own initiative as a private citizen and in no way reflects the views of Western Kentucky University or any of its affiliates.