School Choice Frequently Asked Questions - EdChoice
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School Choice FAQs

We’re setting the record straight and debunking school choice myths.

It is common for the myths and truths surrounding school choice to become mixed up in the fray of rhetoric and debate. Let us be your source for data-rich answers to the most frequently asked school choice questions. We provide all of the research—meticulously sourced—so you can draw informed conclusions of your own.

Who uses school choice programs?

In America’s system of residentially assigned district schooling, those who have the financial means exercise school choice by purchasing homes in districts that have high-performing schools. School choice programs break the link between housing and access to a quality education with the goal of expanding educational opportunity to all children, especially the most disadvantaged. At present, the school choice programs currently operating in 29 states plus Washington, D.C. primarily benefit children from low-income families and students with special needs. To learn more about what the data say, click here. click here.

What does the public think about school choice?

According to five different surveys conducted in 2017, most of the American public supports school choice, though many still don’t know about the issue. Opposition to school choice is weak and continues to decrease, especially as more people learn about how school choice works. To learn more about what the research says, click here.

What is school choice?

The term “school choice” means many things, depending who you ask. We created a resource that defines and illustrates school choice in our organization’s view, and if you keep scrolling on that page, we provide you with definitions for the many other types of school choice that exist today. To visit that resource, click here.

How many programs are operating in the U.S. today?

There are 62 educational choice programs currently and successfully operating in 29 states and the District of Columbia. One state—Nevada—has a program on the books that is constitutional but not yet operating due to funding stream issues. Douglas County, Colo., is the only school choice program that has ever been enacted and then repealed. For detailed information about each program, click here.

What types of school choice does EdChoice support?

If a program expands educational options for kids beyond their ZIP Code-assigned school, EdChoice supports it, though we do have a preference based on what we know parents want. For more than two decades, EdChoice has been a national leader advocating for and studying private educational choice programs, including education savings accounts (ESAs), school vouchers, tax-credit scholarships and individual tax credits and deductions. For definitions of all of the different types of school choice we support, click here.

How long has school choice been around?

School choice has been around for nearly 150 years. Vermont’s town-tuitioning program has served families since 1869. In 1990, Wisconsin became the first state to create a modern school voucher program. In 1991, Minnesota became the first state to create a law allowing charter schools. For a table of enacted and launched dates for all of America’s education savings account, voucher, tax-credit scholarship and individual tax credit and deduction programs, click here.

Does school choice make school segregation better or worse?

School choice is designed to help all children, regardless of their income or neighborhood. The ZIP Code-based public education system has kept low-income kids out of quality schools, and studies have shown it also has contributed to—nay, exacerbated—socioeconomic segregation in public schools for decades. Every study of school voucher programs, on the other hand, shows they help students go from more segregated schools to more integrated schools. To learn more about what the research says, click here.

How does school choice affect students’ academic performance?

Test scores can only tell us so much about a child’s schooling experience. But if we look at test scores only, the vast majority of random assignment studies—the gold-standard method in social science—find school choice programs help improve students’ academic performance, especially over time. There are a couple studies at the state level that show negative effects in the first year or two as students acclimate to new school cultures and curricula, but all show those students effectively turn around in three to four years. To learn more, click here.

Are school choice programs legal?

School choice is constitutional at the federal level and in most states, as long as policies and programs are designed properly. The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that public funding can be allocated to a family to spend on a child’s K–12 schooling, including for faith-based education. Some states have constitutional language prohibiting the use of taxpayer dollars to support children who attend faith-based schools, but those provisions have been challenged federally and at the state level. For more detailed information, click here.

How are school choice programs funded?

A well-designed school choice program allows funding the state already allocates for an individual student’s K–12 education to follow that student to the schools and service providers that best meet their needs—whether that’s a public school, a school in another district, a charter school, a private school, online learning, learning at home or a customized learning experience. To learn more about how the different types of school choice programs are funded, click here.

What do educators say about school choice?

There is no consensus among teachers about school choice. Some are passionately for it. Some are vehemently against it. Many are simply unsure and need more information. For examples of things we’ve heard educators say about school choice, click here.

Does school choice create more tolerant, engaged citizens?

Studies show school choice programs generally have a positive effect on a student’s character. Students in school choice programs are more tolerant than their public school peers, and they are more likely to vote, volunteer and engage in other civic activities. To learn more about what the research says, click here.

How are private schools of choice held accountable?

Accountability is best left in the hands of families, not bureaucrats, and we know that parents care far less about test scores than they do about students having access to quality instruction in safe, nurturing schooling environments that reflect their values. That said, state policymakers have the ability to design school choice programs that represent the will of their citizens, and those programs can include state-based or national testing, health and safety requirements and other regulations. Ultimately, we trust families to know what’s best for their kids. To delve deeper into the issue of accountability, click here.

Can school choice help students with special needs?

School choice empowers families with students who have special needs to find what works for them. In fact, many school choice programs across the United States have been designed specifically to serve students with special needs because they often get left behind when they are simply assigned to a school under the traditional system. It’s important to note that families of students with special needs are informed of their rights when they opt into non-traditional programs. It’s also important to note that education savings accounts or ESAs, which allow families to tailor schooling options beyond tuition—for example, with specialized therapy or tutoring—represent the next wave of school choice and can be particularly helpful for students with special needs who require customized learning opportunities. To delve deeper, click here.

Who funds EdChoice?

EdChoice is funded by individuals and organizations who share our mission to make sure all K–12 students in the United States have the opportunity to access the schooling options that work for them, whether that’s public, private, public charter, homeschooling or another type. To learn more about how EdChoice discloses its donors, click here.

How does school choice affect public schools’ funding and resources?

School choice programs affect public schools’ funding and resources in the same way they’re affected when a student leaves because their family moved to a new district—except with school choice programs, public schools get to keep almost all of the federal and local tax dollars and usually a portion of the state funds allocated for each child. Yes, public schools get to keep a significant portion of money for a student they no longer have the responsibility of educating. To learn more, click here.

How does school choice affect public school students?

There’s a common misconception that if students leave a public school using voucher funds, those who choose to stay will have less money and fall behind academically. Another FAQ addresses the money question, but now, let’s look at student performance. The research shows public school students perform no worse, and sometimes better, because the voucher program encourages public schools to improve to meet students’ needs. To learn more, click here.

How does school choice work in other countries?

Contrary to popular belief, the United States has far less school choice than many other nations. To learn more about how choice is working in those countries, click here.

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