No, school choice programs don’t ‘defund’ public schools

The reality is most families continue choosing their neighborhood public school district even when a private-education choice program is available.

But that doesn’t stop school choice critics from claiming that creating and expanding such programs will “dismantle” entire public school systems, “defund” them, and ultimately “destroy” them.

So, we continue to let the data speak for itself.

An overwhelming number of empirical studies confirm that educational choice programs do not have a negative fiscal impact on public schools and taxpayers. A majority of studies also show that school choice programs even have a positive academic impact on students who remain in the public schools.

What about a “mass exodus” from public schools?

Participation in choice programs, “including programs that have been around for multiple decades, represent just 2 percent of all publicly funded students in the states that operate these programs,” write Martin Lueken and Michael Castro at EdChoice.

Lueken’s recent study looks at 27 private-education-choice programs in 19 states that were introduced in 2010 or later and have been in operation for at least five years. Even over the long term, the participation rate in these programs, or “take-up rate” — the number of students participating in the program out of the number of students eligible for the program — remained low. The “exodus” of students from those states’ public school systems “did not materialize.”

I encourage you to read Lueken’s report in its entirety, as the calculations on participation rates in different education choice programs over the years are interesting, particularly with showing what programs are somewhat more popular (Education Savings Accounts) than others (tax-credit scholarships).

But the bottom line remains — participation rates in a variety of private-education choice programs, even programs that serve only students with special needs, are still under 3 percent.

“Contrary to dire predictions and claims from opponents about choice causing an exodus from public-school systems, take-up in private-education choice programs overall does not have a negative effect on public-school systems or their funding,” conclude Lueken and Castro. “Looking at these facts, it seems clear that the claims of exodus and harm caused by choice programs are greatly exaggerated.”