Workforce Development

Education Report Card Suggests Private School Choice Laws Need Improvement

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) recently released the 19th edition of its annual Report Card on American Education, where it ranks states’ education policy based on six areas: state academic standards, charter school laws, home-school regulations, private school choice programs, overall teacher quality and policies and digital learning opportunities.

The Report Card graded private school choice laws in the states by drawing on research by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. It gave six states an “A” for striving to permit private school choice. Those were Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana and North Carolina.

Less than half of states make a vibrant effort to provide a wide array of options to their students. In all, 51 private school choice programs exist in 24 states and in Washington, D.C. Fourteen states offer tax-credits scholarship programs, while just two – Arizona and Florida – offer education saving account programs. As a result, private school choice is an area where states tended to do poorly on the report. It would be beneficial for student achievement if policymakers worked to create more options for educational opportunity. The relative decline of American academic achievement corroborates that reality.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States spends more than any other nation in the world to educate its students, at an average of approximately $12,000 per year per K-12 student. Yet American students consistently fall behind their global counterparts academically. They were outperformed in mathematics in the 2012 global Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), for instance, by students in 33 other regions, ranking right between the Slovak Republic and Lithuania.

What do other nations do differently? Better school choice policies are a significant component. The Netherlands, for one, spends a yearly per-pupil average of $11,439, yet ranked 10th in mathematics. A significant feature of their system is that students can choose alternative schools when they find it fitting; more than 70 percent of the nation’s students use government vouchers to attend private schools. For a lower price, students in the country are vastly outpacing students in the United States.

Similarly, Canadian students vastly outperform other North American students. The country ranked sixth in reading, eighth in science and tenth in math in the 2012 PISA assessment. In contrast to the United States, Canadians have a more vibrant school choice system that delegates more authority to provinces to form their own education policies. The system includes public, private, charter and homeschools, in addition to “separate” schools that Protestant or Catholic minorities can choose to create.

Academic performance in the United States has room for improvement, and it could certainly become more cost-efficient and offer students a better outcome for taxpayer money. Unfortunately, the lack of strong laws encouraging private school choice means that failing public schools often have no competition. As the Report Card demonstrates, more safeguards ensuring students have a choice and an ability to succeed are components vital to improving education in many states.

In Depth: Workforce Development

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