What is "school choice?"
From a broad perspective, "school choice" refers to various education programs that allow parents to choose the public or private school where their child will attend. Parents receive either a tax credit or scholarship representing part or all of the per-student expenditure made in local government schools. Parents could use these funds to select a public or private school of their choice instead of the government-assigned school.
Public school choices also include public charter schools, an innovative pubic school model where non-for-profit organizations create their own schools and apply for "charter" authorization to open and operate a public school. Charter schools are public schools, funded by public dollars, and any child is eligible to attend. There are also virtual charter schools available to Hoosier families. Many charter schools are in such high-demand that they have waiting lists of parents wishing to enroll their children.
School Choice programs specific to Hoosier families can be found here.
Is School Choice Constitutional?
Yes. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the landmark Cleveland voucher program. When an individual uses public funds to make a private choice - in this case when a parent uses a voucher to make an individual decision to send his or her child to a private school (including religious schools) - it is constitutional.
In Indiana, the Supreme Court upheld the voucher program with a 5-0 vote.
What is a "Voucher?"
Voucher programs allow parents to use all or part of the government funding set aside for their children's education to send their children to the public or private school of their choice. In effect, this separates government financing of education from government operation of schools. Most programs allow parents to send their children to either religious or non-religious private schools. Participating private schools are required to meet standards for safety, fiscal soundness and non-discrimination; some programs also impose additional restrictions. Popular examples of vouchers include universal vouchers (all children are eligible), means tested vouchers (low-income families eligible), and special education vouchers (children identified as having special education needs eligible).
Examples: Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, Ohio and Florida
What exactly is a tax credit scholarship?
Most existing tax credit programs provide state tax credits to individuals or corporations who make donations to non-for-profit, charitable scholarship programs that help families pay for privates school tuition or transfer tuition at another public school. These programs target lower-income families in areas most in need of quality education options.
In Indiana, there are four approved non-for-profit organizations (commonly known as scholarship granting organization or SGO) that distribute tax credit scholarships to children.
Does school choice help children do better in school?
Objective studies of voucher programs have shown statistically significant gains in test scores by students who receive vouchers.
According to studies by researchers at Harvard and Princeton Universities, students who receive vouchers do better in reading and math. Harvard's study found that students achieve a six percentile point increase in reading and an 11 percentile point increase in math after four years in the voucher program. Princeton's study found that students achieve an eight percentile point gain in math after four years.
A 2004 study by Jay Greene found that students using vouchers graduated at a higher rate than those students in public schools. In the graduating class of 2003, Milwaukee students using vouchers to attend private high schools had a graduation rate of 64%, while in 37 Milwaukee public high schools the rate was 36%.
A study by Harvard University researchers of two voucher schools found that students experienced a seven percentile point increase in reading and 15 percentile point increase in math.
A 2003 study of the McKay Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers for any student with special needs, found that parents are extremely satisfied with their child's school. It also found a reduction in class sizes from 25.1 students per class to 12.8 and a significant decrease of behavioral problems in voucher schools.
A Harvard University study, first released in 2002 and reaffirmed in 2003, found that African-American children who received privately funded vouchers scored, on average, 6.1, 4.2, and 8.4 National Percentile Rank (NPR) points higher than their peers in public schools on the combined reading and math portions of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.
Don't school choice programs drain resources from public schools?
No, they don't. While a portion of the per-pupil public funding follows a child to a private or public school of choice, experience has shown that most programs result in lower per-pupil public cost for children in the choice programs than their public school counterparts. Further, the traditional public schools find that they have more money per student to spend.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average private school tuition, including the most elite academies, is $4,689. At the same time, the average per-pupil spending in public schools is $8,830. For every child in public school that receives a voucher worth 60% of the average public school cost, or $5,298, the state saves $3,532. If 100,000 children get a voucher tomorrow, states would save $353,200,000 in the first year.
In Indiana, the state saved $4.1 million educating students who received a voucher. Those dollars were redistributed to the public schools.
Does school choice make public schools better?
A growing body of evidence says yes. If all schools compete for students, public schooling will improve. In practice, it is becoming clear that this is exactly what is happening. Consider the following states:
A 2003 study by Jay Greene and Marcus Winters concluded that "Florida's low-performing public schools are improving in direct proportion to the challenge they face from voucher competition. These improvements are real, not the result of test gaming [or] demographic shifts." This study reconfirms an earlier 2001 study by Dr. Greene, which found that "failing [public] schools that faced the prospect of vouchers made improvements that were nearly twice as large as gains displayed by other schools in the state."
Another study by Carol Innerst found that in response to the threat of vouchers, Florida's low-performing public schools extended the school year, hired more reading specialists, implemented one-on-one tutoring programs and developed reading programs that focus on phonics.
Noted Harvard researcher Caroline Hoxby has shown that, "At public elementary schools where many students could receive vouchers, performance improved faster than at public schools where relatively few students could get vouchers. In fact, public schools most exposed to competition increased math scores 7.1 percentile points between 1999 and 2002. A study by School Choice Wisconsin also highlights the improvements in Milwaukee's public schools. They found that between 1991 and 2003 the dropout rate declined 6%; real spending per-pupil increased by $3,048; test scores increased in all grades tested; and dollars followed students, with individual schools directly controlling 95% of their operating budget. In addition, the number of public schools on the list of Wisconsin Schools Identified for Improvement decreased from 55 to 43 between 2003 and 2004."