Why K-12 school choice shouldn’t be controversial

I have written extensively about school choice and how it is all about ensuring students can access an effective, challenging, and motivating education in the learning environment that serves them best — from traditional public schools, public charter schools, and public magnet schools to private schools, micro schools, virtual schools, and homeschooling.

Helping families retain the freedom to choose whichever learning model is the right educational fit for them shouldn’t be controversial. Especially given the overwhelming positive impacts school choice has on students in a variety of areas.

Yet, opposition ensues, with arguments against school choice programs largely focused on the money piece — either that school choice “siphons” dollars away from government schools or that public dollars have no right to be used for tuition at private institutions. I have written much on the former, which you can read about here, here, and here, for starters, and want to focus this article on the latter.

It’s not a new concept

When families participate in a school choice program, the money that would otherwise be used to educate that child at his or her neighborhood public school instead follows the child to the educational option of choice. Allowing public dollars to follow a person to a private institution is not a new concept.

Consider, for example, how this plays out in higher education. Through Pell Grants, qualifying students across the country are allowed to use federal taxpayer funds to help pay for tuition at private institutions. Through the GI Bill, military undergraduate and graduate students can use the bill’s benefits to help pay for a private college or university, graduate school, or training programs. These students are using taxpayer funds to attend private schools in higher ed. These two programs operate very similar to K-12 school choice programs.

Staying in education, pre-K programs are another example of public dollars being used at private institutions. Many states allow the programs that operate outside the public school system (such as, private and faith-based childcare centers) to receive government funding to operate. In Minnesota, eligible families qualify for early learning scholarships — or as the Pioneer Press has previously called them “unofficial vouchers” — that can be used for public school pre-K or federal Head Start or at private childcare centers, home daycare, etc.

Even outside the education space, public dollars can be used at private institutions: consider food stamps programs, Medicaid, Section 8 Housing.

Public aid for private institutions already happens, which is why school choice should not face the resistance it does.