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School Choice Movement – Does This Education Program Work?

What is your opinion of America’s elementary and secondary schools? A 2018 Pew Research poll found that improving the nation’s educational system was ranked second on the priorities of the American public, slightly behind defending against terrorism and ahead of strengthening the economy. The angst represented in the poll findings reflects the perception that public schools are failing, threatening the prosperity and security of the nation.

The American public school system has been under attack since the mid-1970s and the emergence of the Back to Basics education movement. Critics of the schools advocated that a return to a focus on the three “Rs”- reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic – would restore public education to its historical standing as “the best schools in the world.” In the years since, school administrators, teachers, and students have experienced numerous attempts to improve education results and save money.

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One approach – allowing students to transfer from public to private schools with public financial assistance – has become the battleground over the future of the traditional public school systems in the country. The war is being fought in media, public meetings, and state legislatures by opposing coalitions:

  • Dissatisfied Parents, Fiscal Conservatives, Over-Taxed Homeowners, and Employers. These groups often assert that introducing free market options in education through choice will produce better outcomes.
  • Parents who Favor Public Schools and the Education Community. Teachers, administrators, educational policy leaders typically claim with equal fervor that allowing school choice will destroy public education, ending the opportunity for middle- and low-income students to compete against a favored white, upper-class minority successfully.

Both sides are guilty of half-truths, misrepresentations, and exaggeration in the pursuit of their objectives. Choosing the right solutions to improve the education of the nation’s young requires an understanding and agreement about the current state of the educational system, and of the better alternatives to improve its outcomes.

America’s Public School System

Federal and State Roles

The authors of the U.S. Constitution left the responsibility of regulating public education to each of the individual states. Accordingly, each state maintains the public school system within its borders establishing attendance requirements, curriculum, teaching methods, textbook materials, and graduation requirements. Excluding Hawaii and its single, statewide school district, the states share power and implement their education policies through local school boards in geographically-distinct school districts.

The Federal government’s expansion into education began in 1958 with the passage of the National Defense Education Act (NDEA), a response to Cold War fears of the Soviet Union. The adoption of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) codified the Federal government’s intent to equalize resources between high- and low-income school districts. In 1979, the Department of Education was established under President Jimmy Carter. Today, the Department (with no employed teachers and no physical facilities) oversees more than 100 programs covering pre-K through adult education.

Supporters of the Department and the Federal government’s intervention in education claim its programs ensure an equal opportunity for all students while maintaining high educational standards. Conversely, opponents assert that the Federal government has violated states’ rights and introduced a costly, inefficient, and unnecessary bureaucracy that promotes mediocrity.

Despite their different views, both groups agree that the role and expectations for schools and teachers have expanded well beyond classroom instruction to include moral and civic education, nutrition, physical and mental health services, and after-school care, especially in inner-city communities.

Public School Statistics

Approximately 90% of the 50 million U.S. children attending schools attend a public school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The remaining percentage go to private schools, three-quarters of which are religiously-affiliated. A study by James Heckman and Paul LaFontaine found that overall graduation rates – including regular diplomas and GED certificates – have gradually increased since 1968 to 88% in 2015 and 2016, although the rate for the disadvantaged (minorities, kids with disabilities, and children from poor families) lags significantly behind the rate for white children.

According to the NCES, more than 98,000 public elementary and secondary school facilities are spread across 13,515 public school districts in the United States, less than one-half of the 248,000 schools in operation during 1929-30. In another study, an estimated 3.1 million teachers work in public school with a student to teacher ratio of 16 to one (down from 27 to one in 1955).

According to The United States Census Bureau, state and local authorities (47.1% and 44.6% respectively) provide approximately 92% of public school funds with the remaining funds from Federal government discretionary grants and aid. The average annual cost per student is about $11,014, although spending per individual student varies significantly from state to state, from a high of $22,366 in New York to $6,953 in Utah, according to the NCES.

Expenditures per pupil within a single state also vary widely; urban districts with large student populations typically spend less per student than the state average, while rural communities must invest considerably more per student even though they have lower property tax revenues. One unforeseen consequence of Federal funding has been the states’ use of the Federal dollars to replace, rather than supplement, their contribution to needy districts.

Some states, at the prodding of the Federal government, have introduced legislation to equalize funding between districts, but the result is often a reduction in overall spending as state legislators face pressure from citizens to reduce taxes. State funding for K-12 education fell dramatically in the depression of 2008 and has yet to recover to pre-depression levels.

The School Choice Voucher System

Many citizens believe that American schools are failing to meet their educational responsibilities. Critics complain that high school graduates cannot read as the consequence of over-paid disillusioned teachers, lack of classroom discipline, and curriculums designed to make students feel good about themselves rather than learning an employable skill. Media floods the public with frightening reports of American school children falling behind the students of other nations followed by predictions of catastrophic consequences for the economy, culture, and national security.

All Kids Deserve A Great Education Department Of Education

A Nation at Risk

In 1985, the National Commission on Excellence in Education (NCEE) issued a report – A Nation at Risk – attacking the U.S. public school system and projecting dire results if improvements were not made. The authors expressed their dismay about the consequences of the poor schools with the statement: “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. ”

Public dissatisfaction with the educational system and the fear that America might lose its world leadership role led to the Nation’s first school voucher system in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. By 2018, fifteen states – Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin – and Washington, D.C. had school voucher programs affecting more than 180,000 students.

How Educational Vouchers Work

Educational voucher systems are state programs that allow parents to use public funds to select and pay the costs of tuition for the school attended by their child. Most states’ voucher systems are currently limited to children from low-income families, those with disabilities, those in schools considered “failing,” those from military families, or those in foster care. The states issue a voucher – typically valued between $2,000 and $5,000 annually – that is used to pay for private or charter school tuition. Each state determines the voucher amount, the number of available vouchers, and the conditions for their use.

Depending on the state, vouchers may be used for tuition to private or public schools outside the student’s home district (or private tutoring in some cases). Eligibility for the programs varies from state to state, but reapplications are typically required each year, and deadlines for applications are rigidly observed.

An Example: Indiana’s Choice Scholarship Program

In 2011, the State of Indiana introduced a state-wide voucher program allowing 7,500 low-income children to use state education dollars to attend private schools. Expanded in 2013 by Governor Mike Pence, the program is now the most extensive school voucher program in America – spending $153 million annually to cover 35,000 students and is often cited as a model for other states.

While the program was initially aimed at giving low-income, public-school families an escape from failing schools, the program now covers families of four making up to $90,000 annually whose children never attend a public school. According to an NPRED report, about 40% of Indiana private school attendees now receive a voucher.

The primary beneficiaries of the Indiana voucher program have been religious-affiliated schools in the state. For instance, Chalkbeat, a non-profit news organization dedicated to education, reported that 306 of the 313 schools receiving vouchers in 2017 were religiously-affiliated. According to one study, “vouchers are now a dominant source of funding for many churches” and parishes “running voucher-accepting schools get more revenue from vouchers than from worshipers.”

The Indiana voucher program is often cited by proponents like Betsy DeVos, the current Secretary of Education. At the initiation of the program, Secretary DeVos (then Chairwoman of the American Federation of Children) claimed the program was “a watershed moment for Indiana families and for the movement to provide equal educational opportunity to disadvantaged children.” She subsequently stated that “we hope that lawmakers across the country will follow their lead in giving educational options to the families that need them most.”

Education Tax Credits with Vouchers

Some states offer a state tax credit to parents with, or instead of, a voucher. Individuals and, in some cases, corporations receive tax credits for donations to private scholarship organizations which, in turn, provides private tuition aid to needy children.

The use of state tax credits, rather than state-issued education vouchers, is intended to avoid potential controversies in those states requiring the separation of church and state funds (Blaine amendments). The use of tuition aid from the schools is an effective alternative to state vouchers while giving parents a similar choice in the schools their children attend.

Education Savings Accounts

In 2011, Arizona passed legislation enabling Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), a new form of vouchers. Limited initially to students with disabilities, attendance at a low-performing school, or in foster care, the law allowed for a parent to receive 90% of the revenues that would otherwise go to public schools on a debit card. Recipients are restricted from attending a public school, instead of using the funds for tutoring, homeschooling, online courses, private school tuition, or learning “therapies.” Funds not spent can be converted into a Coverdale ESA or 529 plan for college expenses at a later date.

Eligibility was subsequently expanded to include children whose parents are in military service, live on an Indian reservation, or siblings of those already in the ESA program. Consequently, Florida, Tennessee, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Nevada implemented similar ESA legislation, with Nevada offering universal access – every child could participate in the State’s ESA program. The Nevada program is currently the subject of a legal suit and is non-operational.

Conservative groups such as the Center for Advancing Opportunity, Heritage Foundation, Foundation for Excellence in Education, and the American Enterprise Institute have actively advocated for the expansion of ESAs across the country. According to the Washington Post, the billionaire Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity poured millions of dollars into Arizona to defeat an effort to bring ESA legislation to a vote.

Opposition to ESAs includes the influential teacher and education groups National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, as well as local and regional groups of parents committed to their public school system.

The Case for School Choice Vouchers

Giving parents the option to select the schools their children attend provides an escape from failing schools and hope for a better future. School choice challenges the status quo of public school monopolies by introducing free market competition into education, according to its proponents. Just as automobile manufacturers and retail stores must offer quality products and service at low prices to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace, school administrators would be forced to improve teaching methods and pupil outcomes to attract students and remain open.

School Vouchers Chalkboard 3

Advocates of expanding choice to all students – potentially replacing the public school system currently in place – include former Florida governor Jeb Bush. The 2016 Republican Presidential candidate has championed universal school choice for years, writing in his book “Immigration Wars” that “All parents should be empowered to choose the best schools for their children, and in Florida school choice is widespread.”

Many Republicans advocate the free market educational system described by the founder of the Foundation for Economic Education, Leonard Read, in 1964: “There would be thousands of private schools, large and small, not necessarily unlike some of the ones we now have. There would be tutoring ar­rangements of a variety and in­genuity impossible to foresee. No doubt there would be corporate and charitably financed institu­tions of chain store dimensions, dispensing reading, writing, and arithmetic at bargain prices.”

Though few proponents of vouchers are as optimistic as Bush or Read about replacing all public schools with a free market system, advocates claim that allowing parental choice of the school their child attends will have multiple benefits including:

Better Educational Outcomes

Americans love tests, so it is not unusual to judge our national school system by a comparison of standardized tests given to students of various grade levels. Those who claim that the American school system has failed frequently point to decades of declining test scores as evidence. The National Assessment of Educational Progress has tracked American student performance for more than half a century. Comparisons of American and foreign students are based on student scores by the OECD’s Program of International Assessment (PISA).

Conservative media organizations assert that test scores since 2007 have shown little progress in scores for math and reading. The National Review called the recent scores “dismal” while the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) claims that “Private schools provide a better education than public schools even though American families generally do not sufficiently value education and students often lack initiative and concentration.”

Improved International Competitiveness

Many fear that our educational system is less capable than other countries and inhibits the country’s ability to compete in a world economy. Almost ten years after the publication of A Nation at Risk, John Hood of FEE wrote that “America’s monopolistic, bureaucratic, over-regulated system of public schools is woefully unprepared to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.”

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education under President Barak Obama, told U.S, News & World Reports in July 2018 that “other nations are out-educating, out-investing, out-innovating us… At no level – early childhood, K-12, higher education – are we even in the top 10 internationally. And that scares us. It is scary, and it does not bode well for the future.”

While there is a dispute about the effectiveness of America’s schools, all parties generally agree that education is a key to economic success for individuals, communities, and countries. According to research by Edgar Hanushek of Stanford University and Ludger Woessmann of the University of Munich in 2009, the rate of economic growth is linked to effective public education. Also, a 2017 World Bank report asserts that “educational quality has a strong causal impact on individual earnings and economic growth.” While noting that data from the various choice plans around the world is limited, the latter report concludes that the existing evidence links school choice to better student outcomes.

Lower Educational Costs

In the school year 2014-2015, The United States Federal, state, and local governments spent $668 billion for public education or $13,119 per student. For years, Americans have been told that the country spends more per student than other countries for poor results. Conservative politicians complain about the bloated bureaucracy, high teacher pay, and expensive frills that accompany a public education today.

Voucher advocates claim extraordinary savings for those school districts that offer voucher alternatives. The two studies frequently cited by voucher proponents as evidence of financial savings are from:

  • Marty Lueken, Director of Fiscal Policy and Analysis for pro-voucher lobby group EdChoice, claims that the cumulative savings from vouchers from 1990 to 2015 for 16 programs in nine states (Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wisconsin) has been $3.2 billion.
  • Jeff Spalding of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice analyzed 10 school voucher programs from their inception to the school year 2010-11 and estimated savings of $1.7 billion.

Analyses from the Brown Center on Education Policy at the liberal-leaning Brookings Institute, confirm that parochial and public charter schools spend substantially less per pupil than regular public schools. Furthermore, the Center reports that such schools generate stronger academic outcomes than regular public schools, with each serving a similar mix of students.

Elimination of Discrimination Barriers

The nation suffers when the least of us economically do not receive a good enough education to prosper in our knowledge-based economy. Students in urban, economically-disadvantaged neighborhoods are especially challenged by the current practice of requiring them to attend the school nearest to their residence without consideration of the school’s quality or the student’s needs.

Poor families often lack the funds or mobility to move from poor-performing schools or school districts. As a consequence, they become victims of a callous public monopoly – the school district – that has little incentive to change the status quo. A Brookings Institute study suggests that allowing students to attend any public or private school within a district – with a fair way to allocate spaces at over-subscribed schools – would weaken the link between neighborhood influence and under-performing schools and break the cycle of generational poverty.

Notably, a 2017 poll by the American Federation of Children, found that 66% of African Americans and 72% of Hispanics support the concept of school choice.

Increased Student Safety

Since the tragic school shootings in Columbine High School, a dozen mass shootings in schools have occurred, with 136 killed and many more injured. Almost one-third of teachers frequently fear for their own safety while at school, especially from gun violence or school shootings. A 2018 survey commissioned by research firm, Raptor Technologies found that a similar proportion of students (32.5%) and almost 45% of parents were “very worried” about the possibility an active shooter in their school.

School Safety Camera Surveillance Classroom

While less publicized than a mass shooting, American students are more likely to be victimized in schools by classmates and neighborhood gangs according to figures compiled by the National Center for Educational Statistics. Their findings include:

  • Almost one-in-seven fourth graders and one-in-12 eighth graders are bullied each month.
  • About 13% of eighth graders attend a school considered less than safe by their teachers.
  • Students in urban and suburban schools experience victimization almost double the rate of rural students (36% versus 18%).
  • One-in-20 students in grades 9-12 are threatened with a weapon on school property each year.
  • One-in-seven urban high schoolers attend schools with an active gang presence.

The above figures are averages across the country. For every school that might be considered a safe learning environment, there is another school where students struggle to survive.

Many parents are unaware of the Unsafe School Choice Option (USCO) that was included in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The Act “requires states to establish policies allowing transfer to a safe public school within their LEA (Local Educational Agency) to students who attend persistently dangerous schools or who are victims of violent crimes in school or on school grounds.” Unfortunately, the law gave states broad discretion in labeling unsafe schools. Thus far, state agencies have largely ignored its provisions and intent. A 2007 report by the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General found that in a population of 94,000 facilities nationwide, only 46 schools in eight states were identified as “persistently dangerous.”

Enforcing USCO with the addition of school vouchers would enable parents to provide better, safer educational opportunities for their children, especially in the intercity, according to the Heritage Foundation. “If this country is to get serious about school safety, school choice must be at the top of the list.”

Increased Educator Responsiveness

The adage “the squeaky wheel gets lubricated” is not always true in education. A public school system is a monopoly run by a bureaucracy perpetuated by years – even decades – of complex, confusing rules and regulations imposed by Federal, state, and local legislators. Since system funding is provided by the same authorities, individual students and their parents have little impact on the content or quality of the services they use.

School administrators and teachers who may appear indifferent to individual student needs are more likely powerless to “buck the system.” Like the pupils they serve, school staffs are also cogs in a machine whose output is increasingly at odds with the needs of modern society.

School choice transfers funding power from the bureaucracy to individual parents just as consumers in a free market affect the success or failure of a commercial firm. The chief economist of the Small Business & Entrepreneurial Council, Raymond J. Keating, opined that “True choice and competition in education would shift that system’s incentives dramatically, with the education entrepreneurs and providers focused on supplying added value to the customers, that is, students and parents. The resulting improvement in educational quality and attainment would raise productivity, personal earnings, and the overall economy.”

The Case Against School Choice Vouchers

Opponents of school choice challenge the claims of those who advocate for public school vouchers, asserting that the data used to bolster such claims is misleading or incomplete:

The Public School System is Not Broken

In 2017, U.S. News & World Reports ranked America’s public education system #2 in the world, behind #1, the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, U.S. Global Investors ranked the United States 6th among the Most Educated Countries in the World, one of three G20 countries ranked (the much smaller countries of Japan and Australia were also on the list, but neither China nor Russia).

According to OECD data, 46% of adults between the ages of 25 and 64 in the United States have college degrees, well above the OECD average of 36%. While China and India boast the highest number of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) graduates each year – 4.7 million and 2.6 million respectively in 2016, versus 568,000 Americans, the annual percentage of the population receiving STEM degrees varies less than 0.1% between the countries.

Finally, according to a Gallup poll, approximately 70% or more of parents of children attending K-12 grades report being entirely or somewhat satisfied with the quality of education their children receive. The discontentment with public schools (45%) published by school choice proponents, according to Choice opponents, is more likely the result of biased media reporting than personal knowledge. In other words, parents believe their schools are good but believe that the schools serving another parent’s child are bad.

Test Score Comparisons With Other Countries are Invalid

A country’s educational system reflects the country’s culture. For example, few countries emphasize individuality, freedom of choice, and personal responsibility as clearly as the United States. American culture is based on equal opportunity, social and economic mobility, and the preeminent role of the individual in a society. These values are mirrored in the administration and goals of our school systems. As a consequence, schools in America are generally less structured than others around the world and shoulder greater social service responsibilities. Administrators and teachers are expected to be part-time parents, social workers, psychologists, and police, especially in economically disadvantaged school districts.

American Education Diploma College University Cap Tassel

Educational systems within collectivism cultures such as China reinforce group (“We”) versus individual achievement (“I”). There, tradition, precedence, and orderliness are highly valued. The school system is likely to be highly structured with teacher selection, curriculum, and student advancement tightly controlled. Discrimination based on social and economic class is rampant. The purpose of a Chinese education – to help China achieve its economic and social goals – is clear and inflexible.

The conclusion that American education is regressing is mostly based on comparisons of test scores with other countries, according to James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic magazine. Proponents of public schools claim that the use of standardized test results to assess the quality of a school system is misleading, if not false. Fallows notes that playing field is often tilted by those countries who control sample selection (how representative groups and students are chosen to be tested) and pre-train to the PISA test, common tactics to “game” the system for propaganda purposes. For example, the journalist notes that the supposed Chinese superiority is the result of a comparison of test scores from a “handful of the most elite, highest-performing schools in China (typically in Shanghai) against the sprawling expanse of U.S. student performance.”

Finally, according to research, it is generally acknowledged that test scores more likely reflect a student’s background (family and neighborhood) than academic achievement. The research also notes that students from low-income families perform worse statistically on standardized tests than their peers from more affluent families. As a consequence, failing to consider the effects of poverty, segregation, and unequal funding of schools can lead to false conclusions about the effectiveness of a school system.

Pro-Voucher Savings are Unproven

Many of the studies used to justify voucher savings are misleading, according to choice critics. They claim there are no definitive, quantitative or historical results that confirm actual savings from the implementation of a voucher program, but optimistic estimates based upon questionable assumptions. For example, a Texas Public Policy Foundation study relies on a calculation that arbitrarily caps voucher amounts at 80% of variable costs per student cost attending a public school. In actuality, variable expenses vary from one facility to another and require complicated calculations.

Proponents of choice typically presume a direct one-to-one relationship between the transfer of a student via voucher and a decline in variable costs of the school previously attended. In other words, when a student transfers from a school, expenses of the school’s operation immediately decrease.

Such relationships are highly unlikely in the real world. For example, if a teacher has 25 students in a class and three transfer elsewhere, how would costs decrease? Will the classroom size be reduced? Or will the cost of utilities to light and heat the classroom be lower? Would the teacher’s pay be cut or the administrative staff decrease?

The ability of a school district to adjust to declining student counts is difficult and typically lengthy to complete. Combining classrooms, down-sizing teachers and staff, and closing facilities is the fuel that ignites a political battle between the school board and the parents whose children remain in the downsized public school.

Choice Favors the Middle-Class at the Expense of the Poor

Despite the hope of some that private and charter schools will become the dominant source of elementary and secondary education in the United States, choice of schools attended is neither practical nor likely to be available for most American students:

  • Rural Students. Approximately one-fifth of American students attend rural schools in America today. According to a Center for Public Education report, children who reside in rural districts are more likely to be in families with severe financial needs, with no distinction to race or nationality. One in eight goes to a school where three-quarters of the students receive a free or reduced-price lunch. Teacher turnover is high, and new teachers are harder to recruit than in urban areas. Consolidation of small schools increases transportation cost and travel times, limiting their appeal. As a consequence, “In most cases, the market for school choice in rural areas is just not large enough to be worthwhile.”
  • Students From Poorer Families. According to the Private School Review website, the average private elementary school’s tuition in 2018-2019 was $9,398 annually, while the high school average was $14,205 yearly. While voucher amounts vary from state to state, they are rarely enough to cover the full cost of private school attendance. The remaining amount must be paid by the parents, the school through scholarship programs, or other benefactors. While charter school tuition is usually limited to the voucher amount, the school must nonetheless generate enough income to remain financially viable. According to a 2011 report – The State of Charter Schools – 1,036 charter schools of the approximately 6700 schools opened across the country in the period 1992-2011 have closed. An additional 131 schools are under review and may be closed. Also, another 500 (not included in the 6700) were chartered initially but did not open or were reabsorbed into the school district.
  • Students With Discipline or Academic Problems. While public schools are required to accept all students, private and parochial schools establish their own policies regarding admission. Multiple studies available from the National Institutes of Health have found children who attend poor-performing, inner city schools are more likely to have educational deficiencies and behavior problems than children attending schools in more affluent neighborhoods. As a consequence, they may not be accepted in a non-public school.
  • Students With Physical or Mental Disabilities. Students with special needs have certain legal rights in public schools – a free public education, due process in the event of a dispute, and an individualized education program – that are generally unavailable in private schools. Special services such as speech or occupational therapies are not required in private schools, requiring parents to pay such costs.

Critics of voucher programs claim that their biggest appeal is to middle-class parents who are already sending their children to private schools. For example, Father John Runyon of St. Jude Catholic School in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, says, “The vast majority of the people who qualify for the Choice Scholarships were already here… So, it’s not necessarily the case that we’re getting tons of new students. But it’s that a lot of the students are here.” Ft. Wayne’s Public School Superintendent Wendy Robinson agrees, “We’re not losing kids from our schools [to vouchers]. We’re now just having the state pay for kids who were never going to come here anyway.”

As a consequence, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) passed a controversial resolution in 2014 (and subsequently ratified during their 2016 107th National Convention) opposing “the privatization of public schools and/or public subsidizing or funding of for-profit or charter schools.”

Few citizens realize that public school funding per student nationwide – particularly the portion received from a state – has been in decline for a decade, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. On average, both state and local per capita funding for schools was less in 2015 than in 2008 and continues to decline. NAACP leaders worry that funding diverted to state voucher programs will further reduce the levels of funds for public schools attended by their constituents.

Final Word

Is the American school system failing? No definitive answer satisfies all parties. Part of the difficulty in evaluating the effectiveness of America’s schools is the lack of consensus about the purpose of education in a modern society. While disagreeing about the state of the public schools generally, there is widespread agreement that the system has failed some communities (the poor, racial minorities, children with disabilities). Despite calls for increased public funding, most parties recognize that costs appear excessive when compared to other countries and future investments may not be sustainable.

School choice was initially introduced as a limited measure targeted to the disadvantaged students of the nation. Early results suggest that the outcomes for those participating are positive and justify continued state efforts to expand choice programs. At the same time, we must recognize that reliable, long-term data on the impact of voucher programs on participants as well as those students remaining in public schools is not yet available.

Efforts to replace the existing educational system with universal choice and private schools may be premature, unnecessarily divisive, and contrary to the majority of Americans’ wishes. According to an annual PDK poll, three-fourths of Americans prefer reforming the public school system than finding an alternative.

There are few issues as important as the education of a nation’s youth – a status that ensures future discussions about the role of public schools is likely to be divisive, personal, and confrontational. Emotions are further heightened by the animosity between political parties and the number of other issues – income disparity, infrastructure, environment, and economy – currently facing the Nation.

What do you think about the nation’s schools? Are you in favor of school choice? Are you worried about the impact of school choice on public schools?

Michael Lewis
Michael R. Lewis is a retired corporate executive and entrepreneur. During his 40+ year career, Lewis created and sold ten different companies ranging from oil exploration to healthcare software. He has also been a Registered Investment Adviser with the SEC, a Principal of one of the larger management consulting firms in the country, and a Senior Vice President of the largest not-for-profit health insurer in the United States. Mike's articles on personal investments, business management, and the economy are available on several online publications. He's a father and grandfather, who also writes non-fiction and biographical pieces about growing up in the plains of West Texas - including The Storm.

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