What’s “Wrong” with School Choice?

American education would be far better off if, instead of asking that question, more school leaders asked “What’s so wrong with my school that makes parents want to leave?” But rather than do that, in May, David A. Pickler used Louisiana as a case in point for “what’s wrong” with school choice. The only problem is, events since then show his claims are unfounded.

“The Louisiana voucher law gives up most accountability for school finances or student achievement when it hands over the taxpayers’ check.”

In July, Louisiana’s Department of Education (DOE) barred seven private schools from participating in the voucher program over poor academic performance. By comparison, how often are public schools denied the ability to accept students because of their poor performance?

There’s no doubt performance among Louisiana voucher students could be better. But, keep in mind, those students are coming from public schools graded C, D, or F, many of whom are very behind academically. Empirical research suggest academic gains—albeit perhaps marginal ones—will be seen in due time as will the diversifying of students’ schooling environments, which leads to another claim from Mr. Pickler:

“Re-segregation is another outcome now being seen in Louisiana and other communities because of school choice—more than 30 Louisiana school districts still have unresolved desegregation cases.”

To clarify, the 30 desegregation cases Mr. Pickler mentions have been unresolved for decades—long before the disputed voucher programs were enacted. In fact, no studies have proved school choice causes re-segregation. A study just released by EducationNext and authors Anna J. Egalite and Jonathan N. Mills found that in the first year of Louisiana’s statewide voucher program, participating private schools were no more segregated than the previous public schools from which those students came.

“Just 17 percent of [voucher] schools are racially homogeneous,” wrote the authors, “compared to 34 percent of public schools that previously enrolled [voucher] students, a statistically significant difference.” The authors also found that using “vouchers substantially improves racial integration in sending (public) and receiving (private) schools in districts under desegregation orders.”

“Local school boards are committed to providing each child—regardless of race or religion, family income, or special needs—with an outstanding education that will prepare them for higher education, the workplace, and a fulfilling life.”

There’s no doubt many public educators are working diligently to provide students exactly that. But clearly many families—for whatever reason—aren’t getting the “outstanding education” their children need. Why else did some 12,000 Louisiana families try to leave?