National School Choice Week (NSCW) provides an annual opportunity to celebrate existing educational opportunities, educate parents about their options, and advocate for expanding school choice programs. This NSCW, let’s also address a few school choice myths.

Can you identify which of the following is NOT true about school choice?

A. School choice programs are accountable to taxpayers and participating families.
B. School choice programs drain money from public education. 
C. School choice benefits students with special needs.

Let’s take these statements one at a time: 

A. TRUTH! All state school choice laws require some level of administrative and financial accountability from participating schools and scholarship funding organizations, and most programs include academic accountability requirements as well. In most states, students enrolled in school choice programs must participate in annual math and language arts testing, by taking either the state assessments or nationally norm-referenced tests that measure learning gains. Private schools in every state must comply with health and safety regulations. In addition, families choose to participate in private school choice programs, and can leave the program or the school their child attends if their needs are not being met, ensuring the programs are directly accountable to the participating families. 

B. LIE! Private school choice programs provide public funding to educate a child, and therefore are an important component of “public education.” These programs save state and local governments and taxpayers millions of dollars annually. When a student attends a private school using a state-funded scholarship or education savings account (ESA), the government typically no longer pays the child’s government-assigned school to educate that student. The cost to educate a child in a traditional public school almost always exceeds the public funding provided for each child’s school choice scholarship. In fact, an analysis of 40 educational choice programs serving students in FY 2018 found that the school choice programs cost an average of $5,000 per student, compared to the $14,000 average per-student expenditure for students attending public K-12 schools.  

C. TRUTH! Twenty-three scholarship programs in 14 states exist specifically to serve students with special needs. Students receiving the scholarships use them to attend private elementary and secondary schools that provide the academic instruction and support services they need. Last year, over 80,000 students with special needs benefitted from private choice programs for children with disabilities. Families in ten states can use K-12 education savings accounts (ESAs) for a variety of education purposes, including tuition, therapies and curriculum. Indiana’s new program, for example, provides ESAs to parents of students with Individualized Education Plans accounts. The accounts are worth 90 percent of what the state would have spent on a particular child at a public school and the child’s additional special needs funding. ESAs allow education dollars to fund children rather than bureaucratic systems, and represent the next wave of school choice. The flexible accounts can be particularly helpful for students with special needs who require customized learning opportunities. 

Bottom Line:

School choice is accountable, beneficial and accessible. More than half (52%) of parents surveyed recently have considered choosing a different school for their children over the past year. Clearly, the demand for school choice is growing, and school choice programs should be created and expanded to meet the needs of parents and students.