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Does school choice make school segregation better or worse?

According to nearly every empirical study on the topic, school vouchers lead to more ethnic and racial integration in schools, so there is virtually no evidence to support that vouchers, in practice, result in more racial or ethnic stratification.

Moreover, school choice breaks down the socioeconomic barriers to entry that have historically prevented many American students from accessing schools that work best for them.

A new international study found that Latin American countries with traditional district-based education systems have experienced increased social stratification; meanwhile, Chile’s free school choice system—a universal voucher system—has not significantly increased the degree of segregation in schools. In fact, Chile’s voucher system has mitigated the segregation trends seen in other countries with similar histories and cultures.

To be frank, rich people have always been able to practice educational choice: They either pay out of pocket for private schools, or they pay a premium to buy houses in neighborhoods with “good public schools.”

So, what happens to everyone else?

We know for a fact that our current ZIP Code-based public education system has kept too many low-income students and students of color out of quality schools.

And studies have shown today’s system also continues to contribute to the exacerbation of socioeconomic segregation in neighborhoods and, thus, public schools. Educational choice, on the other hand, is designed to help all children, regardless of their income or neighborhood.

Even in states where school choice programs are open to families of all incomes, the programs primarily help low- and middle-income families. That said, we should never presume to know every family’s unique circumstances or hardships, and neither should our country’s education policies. In all its forms, school choice gives low-income families more opportunities to access schooling options they might never have been able to access before—options that were formerly only available to the wealthy.

Choice and access level the playing field for everyone. And after all, wasn’t our great nation founded on the principles of liberty and equality—not just opportunity for those who can afford it?