By Larry Sand
During the 2020–21 school year, approximately 608,000 students used a voucher, tax-credit scholarship, or education savings account (ESA) to educate their children, according to policy experts Jason Bedrick and Ed Tarnowski. They wrote in August that as a result of the legislation enacted so far in 2021, at least 3.6 million additional students are eligible to participate in the new educational choice programs in seven states, and an additional 878,300 additional students will be eligible in 14 other states. In all, 22 states expanded or created school choice initiatives in 2021.
While this is certainly good news for the still small percentage of lucky families, there is a disturbing, though not exactly surprising reality. As detailed in a study released in the fall by researchers Jay Greene, James Paul, and Lindsey Burke, very few Democratic state legislators vote for school-choice proposals, “and the few that do almost never make a difference in whether those bills receive support of at least 50% of the legislators.” The researchers conclude, that the “empirical evidence is clear that the historical practice of courting Democratic policymakers has not been effective. Indeed, it has likely been counter-productive. Proponents of school choice should make a values-based appeal for choice that could attract more families, and elevate choice as a solution to some of the most pressing education policy fights of the day.”
It is no secret that the teachers unions are Choice Enemy #1, and are a big part of the problem in blue states. With only a handful of organized private schools nationwide, the unions are willing to spend big to advance their self-serving agenda, no matter how family-unfriendly it may be. And that outlay goes almost exclusively in one direction, of course. In 2020, the National Education Association contributed almost $15 million to candidates across the country, handing over 96% of it to Democrats. The American Federation of Teachers spent over $20 million, 99.6% of it going to Dems.
But a critical assessment of the unions’ talking points shows them to be bogus. For example, one of their standard rallying cries is that “voucher programs have their roots in discrimination and continue to foster it.” But as Greg Forster reports, ten empirical studies have examined private school choice programs on segregation, and nine found that the programs reduced it, while one found no visible difference. Not one showed that choice leads to racial discrimination. Additionally, a recent EdChoice poll shows that when given a fair description of school choice types, a great majority of minorities are in favor of it. In fact, 80% of Black and Hispanic parents support ESAs. So, four out of five minority parents approve of parental choice despite the unions’ insistence that it “fosters discrimination.” Also, on a historical note, researcher Phillip Magness writes, “As early as 1955, economists such as (Milton) Friedman began touting vouchers as a strategy to expedite integration.”
Similarly, research indicates that choice programs help establish and strengthen civic norms and practices.
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