Letting parents choose the school or schooling that best fits their child shouldn't be so controversial. We don’t question the right of people to choose what to eat, where to live, what doctor to visit, or where to go to college. Even when we assist these decisions through tax subsidies, we don’t expect to eliminate people’s right to choose. While I’ve always been generally supportive of school choice, it was only when I had kids that I truly understood the need. As my oldest got closer to kindergarten, I realized how big our local district was—and how uncomfortable I was with that. Fortunately, tax credit scholarships allowed us to send our children to a Catholic school. When that choice no longer fit our family, a virtual charter school gave us a bridge between traditional school and our eventual choice of homeschooling. Every child is unique. Allowing education dollars to follow children, rather than forcing children to follow those dollars, empowers parents to choose the education that works best for their kids. Education is a necessity like any other; we should fund it like other necessities—by respecting people’s decisions.
Food is a necessity. Many Americans in need benefit from food stamp programs. However, participating in those programs does not require you to shop at a government-run, zip code-assigned store that carries a limited selection of food. Rather, SNAP and TANF can be used at a variety of stores for a variety of food and drinks. Sometimes these programs are abused, but we haven’t responded by switching to “bread lines” or government stores.
Housing is a necessity. Every state funds affordable housing for its low-income residents, but none require them to live in government-run, zip code-assigned houses. Rather, people are given vouchers to subsidize rent. There are also government-backed loans to assist in purchasing a home. Again, the fear of abuses hasn’t led us to exclusively offer government-run housing.
Healthcare is a necessity. It’s also the number-one priority of America’s social safety net. However, participating in Medicaid or Medicare does not require you to visit a government-run, zip code-assigned medical center staffed by government doctors and nurses. Like private insurance, these programs pay for a multitude of services and are accepted by most healthcare providers. The rules and limitations of these programs help keep abuse in check. While many call for single-payer healthcare, nobody has suggested switching to government-run medical centers.
A college degree is increasingly necessary for career success. Government-sponsored grants and loans, as well as institutional aid, help Americans at all economic levels attend the colleges they choose. Nobody is forced into a government-run, zip code-assigned college. Neither is there pressure as to what major they can pick. Government assistance in higher education respects choice.
A quality K-12 education is also a necessity. But forcing students to attend one-size-fits-all, zip code-assigned schools does not make sense. Every child is unique. A school that is perfect for one child—or even for several hundred children—is not right for every child who happens to live in the same area. School choice programs like
Education Savings Accounts and
tax credit scholarships use the exact same funding model as other forms of government assistance. And these programs get results, as
numerous studies have shown. Putting educational customization in parents’ hands yields excellence as a natural result. We trust people to make their own decisions on food, housing, healthcare, and college—even when using government assistance. Sometimes they make imperfect decisions, but we haven’t switched to government-run providers in response. It’s easy to answer “Why school choice?” There are millions of reasons—because there are millions of unique children in America. Answering “Why
not school choice?” is much harder.
Colleen Hroncich is a Senior Fellow at the Commonwealth Foundation, Pennsylvania’s free-market think tank.
Colleen Hroncich graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in economics. Following college she interned at the American Enterprise Institute, worked as a research analyst at ICF Consulting in its energy division, and then ...