Private schools are first and foremost accountable to families—as well as to the general public and government authorities. Private schools in every state comply with a vast array of health and safety regulations, anti-discrimination and civil rights laws and even rules covering the minimum number of school days. In addition, most private schools already are required to undertake financial audits and evaluate student performance using standardized tests. (The author of this report identified and analyzed all of the public regulations on private schools.)
In Wisconsin, for example, voucher schools must be accredited, obey all laws that apply to Wisconsin private schools, follow state accounting standards, file independent audits, comply with health and safety codes and comply with civil rights laws.
For another example, Florida schools that wish to participate in a special education voucher program must hire teachers who have a bachelor’s degree, three years of experience or special qualifications. Schools must demonstrate fiscal soundness, comply with anti-discrimination laws, meet health and safety codes, maintain a physical location in the state, provide parents with a written explanation of their students’ yearly progress, give the Department of Education any documentation required for a student’s participation and complete a yearly five-page notarized questionnaire covering issues, such as the number of teachers and food safety inspections.
Beyond that, the Florida Department of Education is empowered to make random site visits “to verify the information reported by the schools concerning the enrollment and attendance of students, the credentials of teachers, background screening of teachers and teachers’ fingerprinting results.” The state Department of Education also can revoke a private school’s participation if it deems the school has failed to comply with Florida law or if the school has been operated in a way contrary to public health and safety.
These sorts of accountability regulations are present in other jurisdictions that offer vouchers or tax credits, too.
For more than 20 years, we’ve seen opponents of private school choice attempt to chip away at what makes each school unique by imposing top-down regulations in the guise of “accountability.” Every child deserves the chance to access the educational setting that works for him or her, which means turning all schools into the same type of school simply won’t work.
Bottom line: More regulations do not always mean more accountability. What gives the concept of accountability teeth is a parent’s ability to freely choose a school or schooling type that works for their student.