More than 1.7 million American students attend public schools that serve virtually no poor students, what authors of a new Thomas B. Fordham Institute study call “public private schools.”

“By serving only well-off children, these schools are arguably more private than many private schools,” explains Michael J. Petrilli, co-author of the report and Fordham Institute vice president. “Perhaps they should stop calling themselves ‘public’ schools, because they are hardly open to the public.” Nationwide, more than 40 percent of students are low-income. Yet at more than 2,800 public schools, less than 5 percent of students are low-income. To put that statistic into perspective, 4 percent of all public school students attend a “private public school,” compared to 3 percent of students who attend charter public schools.

In eight metropolitan areas-Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.-more than 10 percent of white students attend such schools. (See p. 18) Study authors note that “many people voice opposition to school voucher or tax credit programs because they object to public funds supporting ‘exclusive’ private schools. Would these same folks oppose public funding for America’s 2,800 ‘private public schools’-funding that runs in the tens of billions of dollars?” (See p. 18) American Enterprise Institute’s Rick Hess notes that it’s time to re-think the meaning of public education:

Amidst widespread support for public school choice plans, explosive growth in charter schooling, and the Supreme Court’s ruling that voucher programs pass constitutional muster, there is growing recognition that it may be possible to serve public purposes and cultivate civic virtues in places other than conventional state-run schools. Policymakers of various ideological stripes are seeking ways to use this insight to enhance education for all of America’s children. As we seek to tackle today’s educational challenges, we need to think carefully about how to provide schooling that is consistent with our shared heritage of liberty and community.