The latest results from New York’s state standardized assessment show only 45 percent of Empire State students in grades 3–8 are proficient to grade level in English language arts (ELA), while only 46 percent were proficient in mathematics.

In New York City, only 47 percent scored proficient in ELA, while 45 percent were proficient in math. NYC’s results were much better than New York’s other large districts. Only 24 and 20 percent of Buffalo students were proficient in ELA and math, respectively. In Syracuse, proficiency rates in those subjects were just 17 and 14 percent, respectively. Even worse, only 13 percent of Rochester students scored proficient in both subjects.

Digging deeper into the results, only 35 percent of black students across the state tested proficient in ELA, while just 32 percent were proficient in math. The numbers for Hispanic students statewide mirrored these results. Just 35 percent tested proficient in ELA, and 34 percent in math.

Although the most recent test scores are a slight improvement over the scores from 2017–18, they show New York public schools are still failing to bring roughly six out every 10 of their students to proficiency in math and ELA. On the other hand, New York charter school students performed 7 percentage points higher than their public-school peers in ELA and 12 percentage points higher in math. The atrocious results from New York public schools are unacceptable and highlights the need for a stark and immediate change from the status quo.

New York public schools need more competition. Moreover, New York families need more education options. These goals could be achieved by establishing more private school choice options such as an education savings account (ESA) program.

With an ESA, state education funds allocated for a child are placed in a parent-controlled savings account. Under the proposed program, parents could use a state-provided, restricted-use debit card to access education funds to pay for resources for their child’s unique educational program. ESA funds could be used to pay for tuition and fees at private and parochial schools, textbooks and curriculum materials, online courses, tutoring services, educational therapies, computer hardware, or transportation costs. They could also be used to cover the fees required to take national standardized achievement tests, such as the SAT or ACT, as well as tuition, fees, and textbooks at postsecondary institutions.

Copious empirical research covering ESAs and other school choice programs shows they offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances. Moreover, these programs improve access to schools that deliver quality education inexpensively. Additionally, these programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.

Students at private schools are also less likely than their public school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link suggesting private school choice programs improve the mental health of participating students.

It is probably for these reasons that choice programs are more popular with parents than ever before. The results of EdChoice’s sixth annual “Schooling in America” survey, released in December 2018, found 74 percent of respondents favor ESAs, up 3 percentage points from 2017. According to the survey, support for ESAs is 76 percent among millennials, 72 percent for those with incomes less than $40,000 a year, 79 percent for blacks, 70 percent for Hispanics, 72 percent among self-identified Democrats, and 77 percent among independents. Another 64 percent support voucher programs and 66 support tax-credit scholarships.

These results are mirrored in the American Federation for Children’s latest annual National School Choice Poll, which shows 78 percent support for ESA programs from likely voters in the 2020 election. Support for ESAs in this poll is 84 percent among millennials, 86 percent from blacks, 84 percent from Hispanics, 85 percent from Republicans, 78 percent from independents, and 73 percent from Democrats.

Supporters of parental freedom in education hope New York lawmakers will take a closer look at the popularity and efficacy of school choice programs in 2020. It is time to reform New York’s mediocre public education system. New York families are ready for an education choice program. Public schools should not hold a monopoly on education. By implementing an ESA program, legislators can ensure more New York children have the opportunity to attend a quality school.

The following documents provide more information on ESA programs and education choice.

Protecting Students with Child Safety Accounts
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Vicki Alger, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and research fellow at the Independent Institute, and Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson detail the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and assault taking place in America’s public schools and the difficulties for parents in having their child moved from a school that is unsafe for them. Alger and Benson propose a Child Safety Account program, which would allow parents to immediately have their child moved to a safe school – private, parochial, or pub­lic – as soon as parents feel the public school their child is currently attending is too dangerous to their child’s physical or emotion­al health.