Myth: Public schools are held accountable while private schools are not

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. Below is a sixth myth and reality on how education choice works taken from a report by the Institute for Justice. (You can read about other myths I have written about hereherehere, here, and here.)

Myth: Public schools are held accountable by state tests and curriculum mandates, while unregulated private schools are completely unaccountable.

Reality: Public schools lack sufficient accountability to parents because their children must attend their assigned public school regardless of test scores. Private schools are directly accountable to parents and must deliver a satisfactory educational experience or lose students.

Without school choice programs, parents are forced to accept their assigned neighborhood public school if they lack the financial means to pay for private school tuition or transportation to a different school district. Educational choice options let parents “vote with their feet” by sending their children to a school that best meets their children’s needs. This market-based approach creates real accountability that public schools often lack. If parents are not satisfied with their school of choice, they are able to leave. This is not always the case for students at traditional public schools, who can find themselves trapped in a system that is failing them.

Public schools have to adhere to rules and regulations, but so do private schools. Private schools are regulated in all 50 states; they have to provide healthy and safe learning environments, meet compulsory attendance requirements, and teach core, mandated subjects like math, English, science and history. Additionally, “most private schools are required to undertake financial audits and evaluate student performance using standardized tests,” according to EdChoice.

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.

So, private schools are not the “unregulated” educational environments opponents of school choice make them out to be. But even then, more laws and regulations do not mean more accountability. The best form of school accountability comes from parents empowered by educational choice to choose the learning environment that best suits their child.