A new report from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice explores whether parental choice programs lead to onerous public regulations on private schools. In recent years the number of school choice programs have doubled, so the Foundation is providing some much-needed insight into whether those programs are associated with more rules and regulations.
Report author Andrew Catt begins with some wisdom from the Foundation’s namesake, Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, who explain back in 1995:
The administration of schools is neither required by the financing of education, nor justifiable in its own right in a predominantly free enterprise society…A far better alternative to political control is to introduce competition in schooling, to give parents a real choice.
Catt tracks private school regulations before and after the enactment of 23 parental choice programs, and he measures and evaluates those regulations, which include rules about teacher certification, curriculum, application policies, financial disclosures, testing, transportation, safety, and paperwork. These are important concerns since private school officials who want to participate in parental school choice programs worry that their schools will be subjected to costly rules that could compromise their academic missions.
Among Catt’s findings is the fact that most private school regulations (62 percent) existed before parental choice programs were enacted. Publicly-funded voucher scholarship programs have the greatest regulatory impact on private schools—especially programs with restricted eligibility. Privately-funded tax-credit scholarship programs had regulatory burden scores five times lower than voucher programs.
Meanwhile, education savings accounts (ESAs) had the least regulatory impact on participating private schools. An ESA allows parents to opt out of public schools and deposit 90 percent of what the state would have spent to educate a child in a public school into an ESA instead that parents can use for private school tuition, tutoring, online courses, and future education expenses such as college.
Based on these findings, Catt makes solid recommendations that preserve accountability without crushing choice schools. These include not reinventing the wheel by implementing rules already on the books; don’t duplicate rules already in place through private accreditation agencies; identify the additional costs to schools before enacting additional regulations; and allow schools to be reimbursed for any additional administration costs.
Public accountability is an important public policy concern. However, government regulation isn’t the only—or even the best—way to accomplish that goal. Parents empowered to choose their children’s schools are the best accountability measure because if their chosen schools do not meet high academic, safety, and other standards, they are free to take their children and their associated funding elsewhere. Thus parents introduce immediate consequences for schools that succeed, and those that don’t.