Myth: Educational Choice Programs Take Money From Public Schools

There are numerous myths concerning educational choice programs. But in order for parents and students to make well-informed education decisions, these myths must be debunked. I will share 12 myths and realities over the next several days to set the record straight on how education choice works. These myths and realities are from a report published by the Institute for Justice (IJ).

Myth #1: Educational choice programs take money from an already underfunded public school system.

Reality #1: No empirical study has ever found an educational choice program to cause a negative fiscal impact on either taxpayers or public schools. Moreover, inflation-adjusted funding for traditional public schools has skyrocketed in the past 40 years, with no appreciable learning gains, and there is no evidence to suggest that spending even more would produce better educational outcomes.

Funds follow students. If a student moves from one school district to another school district, or even out of state, funding goes to the new school responsible for teaching that student. We see this applied in other areas like healthcare. The money goes to the provider.

But because traditional public schools are funded by the number of students enrolled in those schools, fewer students means less money. Which plays into the argument that if a student moves from a traditional public school to a charter school, the school is being “drained” of its money because another school option was available.

There are a couple ways to approach this argument. First, student enrollment fluctuates for a variety of reasons. For example, when local economies grow and shrink, school enrollment goes up and down. Immigration patterns can affect enrollment numbers, as well.

Second, when families participate in an education choice program through a scholarship or voucher, there is often less money being spent on that student than if he or she stayed in the public school (e.g., the average public school spends around $12,000 per student and the average private school charges about $6,500 in tuition). A study by the Friedman Foundation has found school choice saves states money even when accounting for public schools’ “fixed” costs, such as building maintenance. These savings can then be plugged back into a state’s education budget and spent on students still in public schools.

If public schools are truly concerned about other school options “taking” money from them, they should consider examining why these families are choosing these other options in the first place.