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Archive for the ‘School Choice’ Category

It’s time to celebrate another victory for school choice.

  • In 2021, West Virginia adopted statewide school choice.
  • In 2022, Arizona adopted statewide school choice.
  • In 2023, Iowa adopted statewide school choice.

Now Utah has joined the club, with Governor Spencer Cox approving a new law that will give families greater freedom to choose the best educational options for their children.

Here are some details from Marjorie Cortez, reporting for the Deseret News.

The Utah Senate gave final passage to legislation that will provide $8,000 scholarships to qualifying families for private schools and other private education options… The bill passed by a two-thirds margin in each legislative house, which means it cannot be challenged by referendum. …The bill creates the Utah Fits All Scholarship, which can then be used for education expenses like curriculum, textbooks, education, software, tutoring services, micro-school teacher salaries and private school tuition.

As you might expect, teacher unions and their allies are very disappointed – which is a very positive sign.

…the Utah Education Association…opposed HB215… The bill was also opposed by the Utah State Board of Education, Utah PTA, school superintendents, business administrators and school boards. The Alliance for a Better Utah was pointed in its reaction… “Conservative lawmakers just robbed our neighborhood schools of $42 million. Private school vouchers have been and continue to be opposed by Utahns but these lawmakers are instead pursuing a national agenda to ‘destroy public education.’

The Wall Street Journal opined on this great development.

School choice is gaining momentum across the country, and this week Utah joined Iowa in advancing the education reform cause. …Utah’s bill, which the Senate passed Thursday, 20-8, makes ESAs of $8,000 available to every student. There’s no income cap on families who can apply, though lower-income families receive preference and the program is capped at $42 million. The funds can be used for private school tuition, home-schooling expenses, tutoring, and more.

But the best part of the editorial is the look at other states that may be poised to expand educational freedom.

About a dozen other state legislatures have introduced bills to create new ESA programs, and several want to expand the ones they have. In Florida a Republican proposal would extend the state’s already robust scholarship programs to any student in the state. The bill would remove income limits that are currently in place for families who want to apply, though lower-income applicants would receive priority. …South Carolina legislators are mulling a new ESA program for lower-income students. In Indiana, a Senate bill would make state ESAs available to more students. An Ohio bill would remove an income cap and other eligibility rules for the state’s school vouchers. Two Oklahoma Senate bills propose new ESA programs… ESA bills are in some stage of moving in Nebraska, New Hampshire, Texas and Virginia.

Let’s hope there is more progress.

School choice is a win-win for both students and taxpayers.

P.S. Here’s a must-see chart showing how more and more money for the government school monopoly has produced zero benefit.

P.P.S. There are very successful school choice systems in CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

P.P.P.S. Getting rid of the Department of Education would be a good idea, but the battle for school choice is largely going to be won and lost on the state and local level.

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Since I’ve repeatedly written (and spoken) about the momentum for school choice, I’m naturally a big fan of this video from John Stossel.

It’s not just libertarian-oriented people who recognize that school choice is gaining ground across the country.

The union bosses at the National Education Association have bitterly complained that their under-performing monopoly is being threatened as parents get more options.

Given the malignant role of teacher unions (especially with regards to disadvantaged students), that definitely warms my heart.

Now we have more good news to share – assuming you are a good person who puts the interests of kids above those of union bosses (unlike someone who happens to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue).

After getting comprehensive statewide school choice in West Virginia in 2021 and Arizona in 2022, the Hawkeye State has now enacted its own version.

Here are some of the details of this remarkable development from Iowa, as reported by Jeremiah Poff for the Washington Examiner.

Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-IA) signed new legislation Tuesday…to establish a universal school choice program. Hours after the state legislature approved the Students First Act to establish a statewide education savings account program for all K-12 students , Reynolds, surrounded by children, triumphantly affixed her signature to the legislation… The new program will provide students with more than $7,000 in annual funds through an education savings account that can be used to cover all sorts of education-related expenses, including private school tuition and private tutoring. …Reynolds said in a statement after the legislature approved the bill. “Parents, not the government, can now choose the education setting best suited to their child regardless of their income or zip code. With this bill, Iowa has affirmed that educational freedom belongs to all, not just those who can afford it.”

This is good news. It means better results for students at lower cost for taxpayers.

By the way, here’s another excerpt that is worth sharing.

The Governor not only is a supporter of school choice, she took the very unusual step of going after Republican state legislators who were siding with union bosses rather than families.

Reynolds, a Republican, had sought to enact a school choice program in the state’s previous legislative session but encountered opposition from members of her own party that doomed the bill. She later took the unusual step of endorsing primary opponents for several of her party’s own incumbents who opposed school choice.

She didn’t just endorse primary opponents.

Many of those candidates actually defeated incumbent Republicans who opposed choice.

And that’s been happening in other states as well, which arguably can be considered the best political news of 2022.

I’ll close with an upbeat prediction that Iowa won’t be the only state to adopt comprehensive school choice this year. So I fully expect big, positive changes in next year’s version of this map.

And I’ll also predict the list of school choice hypocrites will expand.

P.S. Depending on how you rank the importance of different issues, what’s been happening with school choice may be only the second-most important development at the state level in recent years.

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There are two important things to understand about K-12 education.

  1. There is national evidence and international evidence that spending more money on government schools does not produce good results.
  2. There is national evidence and international evidence that school choice produces better educational outcomes for families and society.

With today’s column, let’s add more evidence to the discussion.

Paul Gessing, the President of the Rio Grande Institute, wrote about New Mexico’s comparative educational performance in an article for National Review.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is known as “the Nation’s Report Card.” Sadly, the most recent “report card” represented failure for many states, not the least of which is my home state of New Mexico, which came in dead-last in all categories studied: fourth-grade and eighth-grade reading and math. Sadly, especially for New Mexico kids, the additional tax dollars being spent by the state’s education system have not moved the needle. If anything, the needle has moved in the wrong direction. Let’s compare New Mexico with lower-spending, reform-minded states, such as Arizona… Arizona neighbors New Mexico and has a similar demographic profile, including large Native American communities and a large Hispanic population. …We’ll use fourth-grade reading scores to make the comparison. …In 2005, New Mexico…was tied with Arizona, with a score of 207. By 2022, Arizona outperformed New Mexico 215 to 202.

Here are the numbers on comparative spending.

As you can see, Arizona is getting better results with frugality while New Mexico is getting worse results with profligacy.

…in FY 2022…Arizona spent $10,639…the…fifth-lowest-spending state…in the nation. …New Mexico, on the other hand, has increased education spending over the past 15 years or so. …Today, New Mexico ranks 19th among states at, considering its dismal educational record, an astonishing $15,338 per student.

But it’s not the frugality or profligacy that matters.

What seems to make the difference is whether the state has some form of school choice.

What happened? …Arizona has had a charter-school law since the mid 1990s and…is ranked as the second-best charter law in the nation… A system of tax credits to be used for private school choice has been in place and growing since 1997, and various specialty programs as well as narrowly targeted vouchers have also made Arizona a school-choice leader. That’s even before the program of universal education savings accounts approved in early 2022 fully takes effect.

Not only is Arizona out-performing New Mexico today, but the gap will probably grow.

Arizona is ranked #1 for school choice while New Mexico is buried in the middle of the pack at #26. And, as Paul noted, there’s a new statewide choice system that will give every family the ability to choose – and that means pressure on both private and government schools to produce better outcomes.

It will be interesting to see if Arizona (especially with its new choice law)…can keep or accelerate the momentum. Sadly, New Mexico is one poorly performing state that has not gotten serious… The children in my state have suffered despite a large increase in government education spending. Better results are possible without breaking the bank.

It’s unfortunate that New Mexico politicians are siding with teacher unions rather than families.

The evidence is very strong that school choice is a win-win for both taxpayers and students.

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It’s not easy being a libertarian, especially when your job is to protect economic liberty. Politicians have a natural incentive to increase the size, scope, and power of government.

In almost all cases, our freedoms are best protected when politicians do nothing. Which is why, in general, I’m a fan of gridlock.

But I also realize that we’re on a very bad path (thanks to demographic change and poorly designed entitlement programs), so we need to hope and pray that lawmakers at some point affirmatively take enact reforms to restrain the burden of government spending.

But that won’t happen this year.

Instead, let’s review my hopes and fears on things that might actually happen. We’ll start with the things I hope to see.

Rejuvenated interest in spending restraint – While I don’t have any hope of actual spending discipline with Joe Biden in the White House, I will be very interested to see whether congressional Republicans go back to caring about fiscal responsibility. In my fantasy world, we see a reincarnation of interest in genuine entitlement reform. But I’ll be happy if they simply acknowledge that there’s a problem.

More school choice – More education freedom was one of the good things that happened in 2022 and I am uncharacteristically optimistic that we will see more progress in 2023. In part, this is because the evidence for choice is so strong. But it is also because Republican politicians are learning that there they may lose their jobs if they side with teacher unions over families.

The Supreme Court Ends Civil Asset Forfeiture – I mentioned this as a hope for 2022, 2021, and 2020, so maybe the fourth time is the charm. My fingers are crossed that the odious practice of “theft by government” is finally rejected by the Supreme Court (especially since America’s best Justice is very aware of the problem).

Now let’s look at the things I’m afraid will happen.

Bipartisanship – It’s possible that Republicans and Democrats cooperate to improve policy (the Clinton years, for instance), but normally bad things happen when the Evil Party and the Stupid Party agree on something. So I’m worried that the two parties will work together in 2023.

Green protectionism – I’ve written about how Europe’s politicians want to throw a monkey wrench in the global trading system by imposing protectionist barriers against products from nations that are deemed to be insufficiently green. Sadly, Biden is interested in doing the same thing and US trade law unfortunately cedes a lot of unilateral power to the president.

A Bursting Bubble in Italy – Back in 2017, I speculated that an Italian fiscal crisis could be either a good thing or bad thing depending on whether the moral-hazard-promoting folks at the IMF did a bailout. But there has not been a crisis. What I did not foresee is how the European Central Bank would break its own rules by doing an indirect bailout (basically, by buying up the new debt the Italian government has been issuing). At some point, though, bubbles burst. In this case, it won’t be pretty.

P.S. Having just survived an emotionally draining Georgia Bulldog victory over Ohio State last night, my far-and-away biggest hope for 2023 is a victory over TCU on January 9. National champions, again!

P.P.S. I’m trying to figure out my all-time biggest fail. Was it when I listed trade liberalization as a hope for 2021 (wildly wrong since Biden has been just as bad as Trump)? Or was it back in 2018 when I expressed hope that Venezuela’s socialist government might be on the verge of collapse?

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Continuing a tradition that began back in 2013, let’s look at the best and worst developments of the past year.

Since I try to be optimistic (notwithstanding forces and evidence to the contrary), let’s start with the good news.

I’ll start by mentioning that we will now have gridlock in Washington. That’s probably a positive development, but I’ll explore that issue tomorrow as part of my “Hopes and Fears” column for 2023.

For today, let’s focus on three concrete developments from 2022 that unambiguously are positive.

States cutting tax rates and enacting tax reform – Since I’m a long-time advocate for better tax policy, I’m very pleased that more states are moving in the right direction. I especially like that the flat tax club is expanding. I’m also amused that a bad thing (massive handouts from Washington) backfired on the left (because many states decided to cut taxes rather than squander the money on new spending).

Chileans vote against a statist constitution – There was horrible news in 2021 when Chileans voted a hard-core leftist into the presidency. But we got very good news this year when the same voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposed constitution that would have dramatically expanded the power of government.

More families have school choice – Just like last year, we can celebrate that there was more progress on education this year. In 2021, West Virginia led the way. In 2022, Arizona was the best example. And we’ll discuss tomorrow why there are reasons to be optimistic about 2023.

Now let’s shift to the bad news of 2022.

I thought about listing inflation, which definitely caused a lot of economic damage this year. But the bad monetary policy actually occurred in 2020 and 2021 when central bankers overreacted to the pandemic.

So I’m going to write instead about bad things that specifically happened in 2022.

Biden semi-successfully expands the burden of government – The president was able to push through several bad proposals, such as the so-called Inflation Reduction Act and some cronyist subsidies for the tech industry. Nothing nearly as bad as his original “build back better” scheme, but nonetheless steps in the wrong direction.

The collapse of small-government conservatism in the United Kingdom – Just as today’s Republicans have deviated from Reaganism, the Conservatives in the United Kingdom have deviated from Thatcherism. Except even worse. Republicans in the USA acquiesce to higher spending. Tories in the UK acquiesce to higher spending and higher taxes.

Massachusetts voters opt for class warfare – Starting tomorrow, Massachusetts no longer will have a flat tax of 5 percent. That’s because voters narrowly approved a class-warfare based referendum to replace the flat tax with a new “progressive” system with a top rate of 9 percent. Though bad news for the state’s economy will be offset by good news for moving companies.

P.S. I almost forget to mention that the best thing about 2022 occurred on January 10 when the Georgia Bulldogs defeated Alabama to win the national championship of college football.

P.P.S. While 2022 was a mixed bag, history buffs may be interested in knowing that it was the 100th anniversary of a big tax rate reduction (top rate lowered from 73 percent to 58 percent) implemented in 1922 during the under-appreciated presidency of Warren Harding.

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A big advantage of living in a constitutional republic is that individual rights are protected from “tyranny of the majority.”

  • Assuming courts are doing their job, it doesn’t matter if 90 percent of voters support restrictions on free speech.
  • Assuming courts are doing their job, it doesn’t matter if 90 percent of voters support gun confiscation.
  • Assuming courts are doing their job, it doesn’t matter if 90 percent of voters support warrantless searches.

That being said, a constitutional republic is a democratic form of government. And if government is staying within proper boundaries, political decisions should be based on majority rule, as expressed through elections.

In some cases, that will lead to decisions I don’t like. For instance, the (tragic) 16th Amendment gives the federal government the authority to impose an income tax and voters repeatedly have elected politicians who have opted to exercise that authority.

Needless to say, I will continue my efforts to educate voters and lawmakers in hopes that eventually there will be majorities that choose a different approach. That’s how things should work in a properly functioning democracy.

But not everyone agrees.

A report in the New York Times, authored by Elizabeth Harris and Alexandra Alter, discusses the controversy over which books should be in the libraries of government schools.

The Keller Independent School District, just outside of Dallas, passed a new rule in November: It banned books from its libraries that include the concept of gender fluidity. …recently, the issue has been supercharged by a rapidly growing and increasingly influential constellation of conservative groups. The organizations frequently describe themselves as defending parental rights. …“This is not about banning books, it’s about protecting the innocence of our children,” said Keith Flaugh, one of the founders of Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative group focused on education… The restrictions, said Emerson Sykes, a First Amendment litigator for the American Civil Liberties Union, infringe on students’ “right to access a broad range of material without political censorship.” …In Florida, parents who oppose book banning formed the Freedom to Read Project.

As indicated by the excerpt, some people are very sloppy with language.

If a school decides not to buy a certain book for its library, that is not a “book ban.” Censorship only exists when the government uses coercion to prevent people from buying books with their own money.

As I wrote earlier this year, “The fight is not over which books to ban. It’s about which books to buy.”

And this brings us back to the issue of democracy.

School libraries obviously don’t have the space or funds to stock every book ever published, so somebody has to make choices. And voters have the ultimate power to make those choices since they elect school boards.

I’ll close by noting that democracy does not please everyone. Left-leaning parents in Alabama probably don’t always like the decisions of their school boards, just like right-leaning parents in Vermont presumably don’t always like the decisions of their school boards.

And the same thing happens with other contentious issues, such as teaching critical race theory.

Which is why school choice is the best outcome. Then, regardless of ideology, parents can choose schools that have the curriculum (and books) that they think will be best for their children.

P.S. If you want to peruse a genuine example of censorship, click here.

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Because politicians have built-in incentives to expand the size and scope of government, it is very rare to find elected officials who actually deliver more liberty.

Some of them will offer rhetoric, of course, but very few of them produce results.

That’s true nationally (with limited exceptions), and it’s true internationally (with limited exceptions).

And it’s almost certainly true at the state level.

Though I found an exception, and that is the topic of today’s column.

The outgoing governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, deserves praise from libertarians and small-government conservatives.

George Will is especially impressed with Ducey’s education reforms (and I agree).

Here are some excerpts from his Washington Post column.

With two trenchant sentences, the nation’s most successful governor of the 21st century defines the significance of his signature achievement: “Fifty years ago, politicians stood in the schoolhouse door and wouldn’t let minorities in. Today, union-backed politicians stand in the schoolhouse door and won’t let minorities out.” Hence Gov. Doug Ducey’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program, which was enacted this year to provide universal school choice in grades K-12. Every Arizona family is eligible to receive about $7,000 per student per year to pay for private school tuition, home schooling, tutoring, textbooks, online courses, programs for special-needs pupils and more. …ESA was ferociously opposed by the teachers’ unions, whose confidence in the quality of their schools can be gauged by their fear of competition. A union attempt to repeal ESA by referendum failed to get enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, partly because of a group (Decline to Sign) in which, Ducey said here last week, Black leaders were disproportionately active.

The Wall Street Journal is impressed with his tax reform (and I agree).

Arizonans who fled California for sunnier tax climes can breathe easier after a court ruling that has saved the day from a punitive 8% top state tax rate. A state judge…struck down Arizona’s Proposition 208, which placed a 3.5% surtax on incomes above $250,000, or $500,000 for joint filers. …Nixing the surtax means Arizona will soon have a flat tax of 2.5% on individual incomes, the lowest flat rate among states with an income tax. Gov. Doug Ducey slashed the previous 4.5% top rate in his 2022 budget… Tax competition has helped Arizona draw residents and businesses from neighbors like California, but the surtax would have sent the Grand Canyon State down a Golden State path. The tax’s $250,000 income threshold made it a particular burden on small businesses that pay taxes under the individual code. The episode is a reminder of the value of constitutional guardrails on state taxes and spending. Arizona voters in 1980 placed limits on school spending through a ballot initiative, preventing unrestrained budget bloat.

In a column for National Affairs, James Glassman mentions school choice and the flat tax, but also a few of his other accomplishments.

Since Arizona’s governor is limited to eight years in office, Ducey’s second term — which ends in January — will be his last. This makes it an opportune time to consider Ducey’s legacy… This past January, Ducey told the state legislature, “[l]et’s think big and find more ways to get kids into the school of their parents’ choice…” In July, he did just that. The Empowerment Scholarship Account program — the most expansive school-choice program in America — is a pure choice-based system that provides $6,500 per student to any family that prefers an alternative to public schools. …When he entered office, he announced that he wanted the state’s personal income tax rate, which stood at 4.5%, to be “as close to zero as possible.” He started by indexing brackets to inflation, then chipped away at the rate with dozens of specific reductions. Finally, last year, he signed into law the largest tax cut in the state’s history, which will achieve a flat tax of 2.5% within three years. On regulatory policy, …he axed or modified more than 3,000 regulations. …he signed the first universal occupational-licensing law in the nation: Arizona now automatically recognizes occupational licenses issued by any other state. He also eliminated initial licensing fees for applicants from families making less than 200% of the federal poverty level.

Ducey’s licensing reform is especially impressive. For all intents and purposes, he adopted an approach based on “mutual recognition,” and that makes it much easier for people in other states to shift economic activity to Arizona.

P.S. George Will’s column also notes that Ducey is not a fan of Republicans who want to surrender to bigger government.

During a September speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California, Ducey deplored the fact that “a dangerous strain of big-government activism has taken hold” in the Republican Party, and “for liberty’s sake we need to fight it with every fiber in our beings”.

Amen. Whether it is called national conservatism, compassionate conservatismkinder-and-gentler conservatismcommon-good capitalismreform conservatism, or anything else, bigger government is bad news for ordinary citizens.

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When I write about government schools, I often revise Winston Churchill’s famous quote about the Royal Air Force so that it reads “never have so many paid so much to achieve so little.”

That’s because American taxpayers have been dumping ever-larger amounts of money into government schools and getting consistently dismal outcomes.

Many families, especially those with money, have opted out. They are still forced to pay taxes for government schools, of course, but they prefer private education.

That means paying with their money for a private school or paying with their time (and some money) for homeschooling.

It’s happening more and more, as John Harden and Steven Johnson have reported in the Washington Post.

The pandemic transformed the landscape of K-12 education. Some parents withdrew their kids from public school and placed them into private or home schools. Their reasons varied: Many preferred private schools that offered in-person instruction; others distrusted public schools’ pandemic precautions. …So far, data show that since 2019, private enrollment is up, public enrollment is down and home schooling has become more popular. Families flocked to private and home schools at the greatest rate in a decade, according to American Community Survey estimates from the U.S. Census. The government projects that K-12 public school enrollment — already facing demographic pressures — will drop further to about 46 million students by fall 2030, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, reversing decades of growth.

The story then continues with summary statements from several parents about why they opted their kids out of government schools.

But allow me to throw in my two cents and answer the question about “Why are Americans Fleeing Public Schools?”

  • Subpar Education – I sent my kids to private schools because I wanted them to get a better-quality education and the evidence is clear that private alternatives do a much better job of teaching.
  • Political Brainwashing – It is good for kids to learn the good points and bad points about their nation’s history, but things like the “1619 Project” are academically sloppy and almost seem designed to promote victimhood and division.
  • Pandemic Failure – It became apparent to many parents that government schools, first and foremost, are run for the benefit of government bureaucrats rather than providing education for children.

There doubtlessly are many other reasons for choosing private alternatives over the government monopoly.

Some parents worry about safety. Others want a school that reflects their social and religious values.

Since I’m a public-finance economist, I’m motivated by the fact that government schools cost more and provide and inferior product.

The bottom line is that everyone deserves education choice, not just rich people (including lots of hypocritical leftists).

P.S. Here’s a video explaining the benefits of school choice.

P.P.S. There’s international evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands, all of which shows superior results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

 

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Since teacher unions care more about lining their pockets and protecting their privileges rather than improving education, I’ll never feel any empathy for bosses like Randi Weingarten.

That being said, the past couple of years have been bad news for Ms Weingarten and her cronies.

Not only is school choice spreading – especially in states such as Arizona and West Virginia, but we also are getting more and more evidence that competition produces better results for schoolkids.

In a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Professors David N. Figlio, Cassandra M.D. Hart & Krzysztof Karbownik found that school choice led to benefits even for kids who remained stuck in government schools.

They enjoyed better academic outcomes, which is somewhat surprising, but even I was pleasantly shocked to see improved behavioral outcomes as well.

School choice programs have been growing in the United States and worldwide over the past two decades, and thus there is considerable interest in how these policies affect students remaining in public schools. …the evidence on the effects of these programs as they scale up is virtually non-existent. Here, we investigate this question using data from the state of Florida where, over the course of our sample period, the voucher program participation increased nearly seven-fold. We find consistent evidence that as the program grows in size, students in public schools that faced higher competitive pressure levels see greater gains from the program expansion than do those in locations with less competitive pressure. Importantly, we find that these positive externalities extend to behavioral outcomes— absenteeism and suspensions—that have not been well-explored in prior literature on school choice from either voucher or charter programs. Our preferred competition measure, the Competitive Pressure Index, produces estimates implying that a 10 percent increase in the number of students participating in the voucher program increases test scores by 0.3 to 0.7 percent of a standard deviation and reduces behavioral problems by 0.6 to 0.9 percent. …Finally, we find that public school students who are most positively affected come from comparatively lower socioeconomic background, which is the set of students that schools should be most concerned about losing under the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program.

It’s good news that competition from the private sector produces better results in government schools.

But it’s great news that those from disadvantaged backgrounds disproportionately benefit when there is more school choice.

Wonkier readers will enjoy Figure A2, which shows the benefits to regular kids on the right and disadvantaged kids on the left.

Since the study looked at results in Florida, I’ll close by observing that Florida is ranked #1 for education freedom and ranked #3 for school choice.

P.S. Here’s a video explaining the benefits of school choice.

P.P.S. There’s international evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands, all of which shows superior results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

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I’ve been pontificating in favor of school choice from the early days of this column, in part because I believe in the benefits of competition and in part because there’s such overwhelming evidence that government schools have deteriorated.

In recent years, I’ve shared good news about states implementing and expanding school choice, with Arizona and West Virginia deserving special praise.

But I’ve always wondered which states do the best job and which states do the worst job with education policy.

Thanks to the Heritage Foundation, we now have an answer. Its Education Freedom Report Card looks at four variables (choice, transparency, regulation, and spending) to rank the states.

As you can see from this map, Florida is in first place for overall education policy, followed by Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, and South Dakota.

The worst state isn’t a state. It’s the District of Columbia.

New York is next, followed by New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

The best part of the report is that you can also see how states rank in the four categories.

As a fiscal policy person, I’m naturally interested in how states rank with regards to spending, especially since that variable shows that you can get good results without spending a lot of money (congratulations to Idaho for winning that category, followed by Utah and North Carolina).

Very similar to the “ROI data” on cities that I looked at back in 2015.

But the data that really intrigues me is the ranking on school choice.

For background, here its some of what’s written in the report.

Our report card measures four broad categories (School Choice, Transparency, Regulatory Freedom, and Spending) that encompass more than two dozen discrete factors. ...Florida is the top-ranked state across the board. Families looking for a state that embraces education freedom, respects parents’ rights, and provides a decent ROI for taxpayers should look no further than The Sunshine State.

But I want to focus specifically on school choice. On that basis, Arizona is in first place, followed by Indiana, Florida, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

Hawaii is in last place, followed by Massachusetts and North Dakota.

Here’s some discussion of the report’s methodology.

States with more education choice have more educational liberty. “Education Choice” has five sub-categories: (a) Private School Choice, (b) Private School Choice Program Design, (c) Charter Schools, (d) Homeschooling, and (e) Public School Choice.

Charter schools are better than regular government schools, so it’s good they’re included.

And ranking states on their homeschooling laws is even better.

P.S. There are very successful school choice systems in CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

P.P.S. Getting rid of the Department of Education would be a good idea, but the battle for school choice is largely won and lost on the state and local level.

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Politicians are generally despicable people, but the worst of the worst almost certainly would include the ones who oppose school choice in order to curry favor with teacher unions.

Like Joe Biden, for instance.

But if you want the worst of the worst of the worst, then we need to look at politicians who oppose school choice while having their own kids in private schools.

In other words, they are hypocrites who also support horrible education policy.

Like Elizabeth Warren, for instance.

Today, we’re going to highlight one of these reprehensible people.

In a column for the Washington Free Beacon, Chuck Ross writes about a Pennsylvania Senate candidate who wants poor kids to be stuck in sub-par schools, but has his own kids at a fancy private school.

Pennsylvania Senate hopeful John Fetterman (D.) opposes vouchers that let children in failing public school districts attend private and charter schools. But the progressive champion…sends his kids to an elite prep school. Fetterman’s kids attend the Winchester Thurston School in Pittsburgh, where parents pay up to $34,250… Fetterman and his wife Gisele have sent at least one of their three kids to Winchester Thurston for the past seven years. …Fetterman’s embrace of school choice for his own family opens him up to allegations of hypocrisy on several fronts. …Fetterman has publicly opposed vouchers that parents in poor-performing districts like his own could use to send their kids to private and charter schools. In 2018, he told an organization founded by Bernie Sanders supporters he opposed vouchers for families.

Some people are criticizing Fetterman’s hpocrisy, though I would have said something much stronger than “shame on him.”

“Shame on him,” said David P. Hardy, a distinguished senior fellow at the Commonwealth Foundation and co-founder of Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia charter school. “Fetterman could send his kids to [Woodland Hills], but he’s got money, so he can send them somewhere else,” Hardy told the Washington Free Beacon. “But the poor people there are stuck going to those schools, and he doesn’t give them any way out.”

It’s hardly a suprise that politicians often are hypocrites.

That’s true with regard to taxes. And that’s true with regards to the pandemic.

But it’s nauseating when they’re hypocrites on school choice since they are denying kids a chance for a better life by trapping them in failing government schools.

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I wrote earlier this week about school choice in Arizona, but this is such great news that it merits more attention. Indeed, I made it my “underreported story” in this week’s edition of the Square Circle.

What excites me is that school choice will lead to better educational outcomes.

We already have lots of evidence for this proposition, which our friends on the left falsely blame of “cream skimming.”

The good news about Arizona is that it will become impossible to make that silly argument when all children are eligible.

What’s really amazing is that opponents of school choice basically admit that private schools do a better job.

Consider this column for Salon by Kathryn Joyce. All the critics basically acknowledge that parents are going to abandon government schools now that they have a choice.

In practice, the law will now give parents who opt out of public schools a debit card for roughly $7,000 per child that can be used to pay for private school tuition, but also for much more: for religious schools, homeschool expenses, tutoring, online classes, education supplies and fees associated with “microschools,” in which small groups of parents pool resources to hire teachers. …Democratic politicians and public education advocates described the law as the potential “nail in the coffin” for public schools in Arizona…by steadily draining funds away from public education. …the money to cover children who leave public schools in coming years will be deducted from public school budgets. …”I think we’re witnessing the dismantling of public education in our state,” said Lewis.

I’m also excited because Arizona lawmakers didn’t try to dictate how the new system will work.

Why is that good news? Well, Max Eden of the American Enterprise Institute writes that Arizona’s program will encourage educational entrepreneurship.

…the Arizona Legislature passed the most expansive school choice initiative in America: the Arizona Empowerment Scholarship Account program. ESAs are the purest version of school choice. …Arizona’s ESA program would give about $6,500 directly to any family that decides a public school isn’t quite the right fit for their child. …the most significant consequence may come from a sector that essentially didn’t exist just a few years ago: “pods” or “microschools.” …If a teacher were to advertise and attract a dozen students, she stands to draw nearly $80,000… More importantly, her students will get far more specialized attention, likely suffer through far fewer distractions, and are less likely to fall behind or slip through the cracks. …The beautiful thing about Arizona’s ESA program is that it can eliminate any mismatch between what parents want for their child’s education and what they can get. Arizona now funds students, not systems. For many independent-minded parents, the idea of taking their child’s education directly into their own hands and partnering with other families to form small educational communities will be deeply attractive.

The bottom line is that there is not a system that is ideal for every kid. Some will thrive in a traditional school setting. Others will benefit from microschooling. And some will do best with homeschooling.

Let a thousand flowers bloom!

P.S. More than 10 years ago, I was very hopeful that states such as Colorado and Pennsylvania would lead the school choice revolution. But that was back when there were a significant number of Republican legislators who wanted to appease teacher unions. Fortunately, Republican voters have learned to punish politicians who put union bosses above children.

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I thought passage of statewide school choice last year in West Virginia was something to celebrate.

And it was, especially since other states also expanded educational freedom for families.

But there’s even better news from Arizona, where the legislature just enacted, and the governor just signed, the nation’s most comprehensive system of school choice.

Parents will get vouchers of about $7,000 for each school-age child, to be used at the schools that are best for their children.

This is a victory for parents. And a victory for taxpayers.

The Goldwater Institute in Phoenix played a big role in this victory. Here’s their description of the now-universal Empowerment Scholarship Accounts.

In a major victory for families weary of a one-size-fits-all approach to education, the Arizona Legislature today passed a groundbreaking bill which ensures all Arizona families can access school choice. …ESAs, which Goldwater pioneered in Arizona more than a decade ago, put money that would otherwise go toward a given child’s public education into an account that parents can use to customize their child’s education experience to best meet their unique needs. …Families would receive over $6,500 per year per child for private school, homeschooling, ‘learning pods,’ tutoring, or any other kinds of educational service that would best fit their students’ needs.

I’m glad to see that homeschooling is on a level playing field.

Here’s some media coverage from KAWC.

Arizona Republican lawmakers late Friday gave final approval to the most comprehensive system of vouchers of taxpayer funds for private and parochial schools in the nation. The 16-10 Senate vote came as proponents said parents want more choice for their children. …The solution that Republicans say HB 2853 offers is to allow each of the 1.1 million students in Arizona public schools to get a voucher they can use to attend a private or parochial school. …Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, said the nature of providing resources to parents to make education choices necessarily makes them more involved in their child’s education as they have the resources to choose a school. “Remember: this is for whatever the parent thinks is best for their kid,” he said. “And, for the life of me, I still can’t fathom why anybody would oppose that.”

Sen. Boyer is right. There are no good arguments against school choice.

This is a very simple issue. Government schools are failing. They’ve received more money and more money, yet they keep producing dismal results.

You can blame the natural inefficiency of monopolies. You can blame teacher unions. Heck, you can blame sunspots or space aliens for all I care.

What matters is giving ordinary families an opportunity to get better education for their kids (the same choice that rich – and hypocritical – leftists like to utilize).

Thanks to lawmakers in Arizona, more American families will now have this opportunity.

P.S. It’s uplifting to see very successful school choice systems operate in nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

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It was back in 2010 when I first shared a video about school choice. We’ve enjoyed a lot of progress since then, which is producing a backlash from teacher unions and their lackeys.

In this new video, Corey DeAngelis debunks their arguments.

The “3 big lies” mentioned in Corey’s video are 1) school choice defunds governments schools, 2) school choice is unaccountable, and 3) school choice violates separation of church and state.

When I discuss this issue with my left-leaning friends, they usually trot out the third argument. They say it is wrong, or perhaps even unconstitutional. to give families tax-funded vouchers that can be used at religious schools.

I then ask them whether they want to get rid of grants and loans for college students who attend religious schools such as BYU, Baylor, and Boston College?

Needless to say, I’ve never received an intelligent answer to that question.

To be fair, that’s not their only argument. They also claim that the solution to bad government schools is more money from taxpayers.

Corey didn’t address that myth in his video, but I’ve explainedover and over again – that we’ve tried that approach. At the risk of understatement, it doesn’t work.

School choice, by contrast, produces good results.

Even in some unexpected places. In a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, Laura Williams describes how school choice has successfully operated in Vermont’s “tuition towns” for a long time.

Too small and sparsely populated to support a traditional public school, these towns distribute government education funds to parents, who choose the educational experience that is best suited to their family’s needs. …Ninety-three Vermont towns (36 percent of its 255 municipalities) have no government-run school at all. …In these towns, the funds local governments expect to spend per pupil are instead given directly to the parents of school-age children. This method gives lower- and middle-income parents the same superpower wealthy families have always had: school choice. …A variety of schools has arisen to compete for these tuition dollars. A spectrum from centuries-old academies to innovative, adaptive, and experimental programs… Eligibility for tuition vouchers actually increased home values in towns that closed their public schools. Outsiders were eager to move to these areas… Because parents, not bureaucrats or federal formulas, determine how funds are allocated, schools are under high economic pressure to impress parents⁠—that is, to serve students best… Having watched these models develop nearby, two more Vermont towns voted in 2013 to close their government-run schools and become “tuition towns” instead. …Wealthy parents will always have school choice. They have the power to choose the best opportunity and the best fit for their individual child. Tuition towns—where all parents direct their child’s share of public education spending—give that power to every family.

Amen.

The concluding sentences are very important. School choice is a way of giving families with modest incomes the same opportunities that have always existed for rich families (including the families of hypocritical politicians).

P.S. There’s strong evidence for school choice from nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

P.P.S. Since I’m a fiscal economist, I can’t resist mentioning that school choice is not only good for students, but for taxpayers as well.

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When I shared the best and worst news of 2021, I expressed happiness about how school choice is spreading across the nation.

But it’s not spreading as fast as it should because some establishment Republican state legislators would rather kowtow to teacher unions rather than promote better educational opportunities for the kids in their districts.

But parents are beginning to notice.

In a closely watched primary contest yesterday in Iowa, the Republican Chairmen of the House Education Committee (and a lackey of the teacher unions) was being challenged by a supporter of school choice.

Needless to say, it’s very difficult to defeat an incumbent politician. But, as Corey DeAngelis shared in a tweet, the challenger prevailed in a stunning outcome.

And if you peruse the press release from the American Federation for Children, that was just one of many victories in the Hawkeye State.

Indeed, it’s just one of many victories in primaries across the country.

Corey wrote an article last week for National Review, co-authored by Jason Bedrick, that analyzed primary results in other states this year.

They start with some good news.

DeSantis made school choice a centerpiece of his campaign, and voters rewarded him. In a race decided by fewer than 40,000 votes, his unusually high level of support among black women (18 percent, or about 100,000 votes), who chose him over an anti–school choice black Democrat, Andrew Gillum, proved decisive. …Republicans began wrapping themselves in the mantle of parental rights and school choice, but the fulfillment of their promises has been mixed. States such as West Virginia and New Hampshire enacted bold new education-choice policies in 2021, while Florida, Indiana, and more than a dozen other states expanded existing choice policies.

They then share some bad news.

Nevertheless, choice initiatives stalled this year in Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Utah, with some Republicans casting the deciding votes.

But they close with the best news of all.

In recent primaries, GOP voters threw their support to candidates who supported choice, even if it meant tossing out otherwise conservative incumbents. …Representative Phil Stephenson, an incumbent backed by the teachers’ union, lost to school-choice supporter Stan Kitzman, who secured 58 percent of the vote despite spending less than half of what his opponent spent… Likewise, school-choice champions Ellen Troxclair and Carrie Isaac both defeated candidates who were endorsed by the Texas affiliate of Randi Weingarten’s American Federation of Teachers. In all, eleven of 14 Texas House of Representatives candidates endorsed by the pro-school choice Texas Federation for Children PAC won their primary runoffs. …in Kentucky, an incumbent known to be the leading opposition to school choice in the Republican caucus, Representative Ed Massey, suffered a devastating primary defeat by school-choice champion Steve Rawlings, who garnered 69 percent of the vote despite being significantly outspent. Candidates endorsed by American Federation for Children Action Fund and its affiliates won their primaries or advanced to runoffs in 38 of 48 races in Texas, Arkansas, Idaho, Georgia, and Nebraska so far this year.

Actually, the best news of all is not what happens in elections. Instead, the best news is when legislation is approved that expands school choice. Like we saw last year in West Virginia and other states.

I’ll close with some political analysis.

I’m a big fan of the no-tax-pledge organized by Americans for Tax Reform.

Why? Because it is a way of targeting politicians who are sympathetic to tax increases.

Signing the pledge does not guarantee that a candidate is good (they can vote for debt-financed spending without violating the pledge).

But a candidate who does not sign the pledge almost certainly is bad. And voters now have a way of identifying – and rejecting – those politicians.

We need something similar for school choice. Maybe that’s a pledge. Maye it’s simply endorsements by the American Federation for Children.

All that matters is that politicians learn that there are negative consequences if they side with teacher unions instead of children.

P.S. Politicians who oppose school choice often are reprehensible hypocrites, as noted by Democratic state senator Justin Wayne of Nebraska.

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In theory, annual awards should not be bestowed until the end of the year. But I already violated that rule when writing about “2022’s Tweet of the Year” last month (in my defense, anything that mocks Oxfam deserves favorable attention).

Given my weakness for premature proclamations, I may as well do it again.

Being a big fan of school choice, you can understand why this bit of whining and grousing from the National Education Association is my “Feel-Good Tweet of the Year.”

Oh, dear, the union bosses are upset that children are getting more options to escape government schools. My cheeks are wet with crocodile tears! So much schadenfreude.

By the way, I agree with part of the tweet. The union bosses at the NEA are correct that school choice is spreading.

Most notably, there was a huge victory for choice last year in West Virginia. But there’s also been progress in many other states.

But I can’t resist correcting two other parts of the tweet.

  • First, choice doesn’t “divert funding for public education into private hands.” Instead, it returns funding to private hands, where the money can then be used to get the best possible education for kids. Incidentally, that could mean government schools (researchers have that quality increases when government schools have to compete for students).
  • Second, it’s not voucher proponents that have been “steadily working to undermine public education.” Instead, the NEA should look in the mirror. It’s the union bosses and their political allies who have made government schools less attractive. They’ve been given record amounts of money and produced dismal educational outcomes.

P.S. As always, I can’t resist reminding people that there are successful systems of school choice in CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands. In other words, it’s not a crazy idea being pushed by American libertarians.

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What’s the main problem in K-12 education today? Based on news reports, one might think the top challenge involves hot-button social issues such as sex education and critical race theory.

Or maybe pandemic policies such as masking, remote learning, and vaccinations.

Or the malignant role of teacher unions.

Those are real issues, of course, but surely the biggest problem must be that taxpayers are spending ever-more money and getting ever-weaker results.

Given these issues, I was interested to see that the Washington Post has a lengthy article, written by Laura Meckler, that looks at the various challenges facing government schools.

It starts with a grim assessment.

Test scores are down, and violence is up. Parents are screaming at school boards, and children are crying on the couches of social workers. Anger is rising. Patience is falling. For public schools, the numbers are all going in the wrong direction. Enrollment is down. Absenteeism is up. …Public education is facing a crisis unlike anything in decades, and it reaches into almost everything that educators do: from teaching math, to counseling anxious children, to managing the building. …Schools are on the defensive about their pandemic decision-making, their curriculums, their policies regarding race and racial equity and even the contents of their libraries.

As one might suspect, the pandemic made a bad situation worse.

Remote learning, the toll of illness and death, and disruptions to a dependable routine have left students academically behind — particularly students of color and those from poor families. Behavior problems ranging from inability to focus in class all the way to deadly gun violence have gripped campuses. …In fall 2021, 38 percent of third-graders were below grade level in reading, compared with 31 percent historically. In math, 39 percent of students were below grade level, vs. 29 percent historically. …A McKinsey & Co. study found schools with majority-Black populations were five months behind pre-pandemic levels. …Last school year, the number of students who were chronically absent — meaning they have missed more than 10 percent of school days — nearly doubled from before the pandemic.

Many parents have responded to this mess by seeking other options.

More kids are now attending charter schools or private schools, and there’s also been an explosion in home schooling.

Enrollment in traditional public schools fell to less than 49.4 million students in fall 2020, a 2.7 percent drop from a year earlier. …if the trend continues, that will mean less money for public schools as federal and state funding are both contingent on the number of students enrolled. …Some students have shifted to private or charter schools. A rising number, especially Black families, opted for home schooling. And many young children who should have been enrolling in kindergarten delayed school altogether. …charter schools, which are privately run but publicly funded, saw enrollment increase by 7 percent, or nearly 240,000 students, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. There’s also been a surge in home schooling. Private schools saw enrollment drop slightly in 2020-21 but then rebound this academic year, for a net growth of 1.7 percent over two years.

From my perspective, here’s the best part of the article.

Fueling the pressure on public schools is an ascendant school-choice movement… EdChoice, a group that promotes these programs, tallies seven states that created new school choice programs last year. …Another 15 states expanded existing programs.

Amen. School choice is the answer to our education problems – from the perspective of both students and taxpayers.

We’ve already seen a lot of progress on this issue, but more is needed. I hope more and more states copy nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands and give parents the ability to opt for higher-quality private schools.

P.S. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t help when politicians created a federal Department of Education in the late 1970s. At best, it meant another layer of costly bureaucracy. At worst, it led to mandates and regulations that exacerbated the problem of ever-more spending for ever-weaker results.

P.P.S. Here’s a very amusing video about home schooling.

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If Winston Churchill was commenting on America’s government schools instead of the Royal Air Force, he would have said, “never have so many paid so much to achieve so little.”

Which is one of the messages in this new video from Reason.

I won’t keep anyone in suspense.

The message of today’s column is that government schools are becoming ever-more expensive while producing ever-more dismal outcomes.

As a nation, we have two choices.

We can continue to pour more money into monopoly, government-run systems that never produce better results.

Or we can learn from the evidence and harness the benefits of competition and innovation with school choice.

Let’s look at some more data and research.

In a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Dennis Epple, Richard E. Romano, and Miguel Urquiola were largely agnostic on the desirability of choice.

But their research included some very favorable analysis.

We review the theoretical, computational, and empirical research on school vouchers, with a focus on the latter. …multiple positive findings support continued exploration. …for some subgroups or outcomes, vouchers can have a substantial positive effect on those who use them. …Evidence on both small scale and large scale programs suggests that competition induced by vouchers leads public schools to improve. … The most robust finding is that voucher threats induce public schools to improve. …In addition, recent evidence from small-scale experiments in the United States finds substantial gains in years of school for recipients… More encouraging results on the effect of small-scale programs come from developing countries. …interesting evidence comes from India. While vouchers there delivered modest test-score gains, they did so at one-third the cost per student of public schools. …In the case of Sweden’s large-scale voucher program, …recent work features evidence of significant gains… Recent research also tends to support the finding that voucher competition has improved the performance of public schools.

Since I’ve written about choice programs in nations such as Canada, Sweden, Chile, and the Netherlands, I’m glad the study mentioned some of the international evidence.

Moreover, I’ve also noted that proponents of school choice have been gaining ground.

Francis Suarez, the Mayor Miami, wants more progress. A National Review article he co-authored with Corey DeAngelis makes the case for expanded options.

School choice is the civil-rights issue of the 21st century. Choosing the right school opens opportunity, it shapes success, it prevents failure, and it unleashes economic opportunity. …We believe the best way to improve our schools and invest in our future is to expand parent-driven school choice. …Miami has always led on school choice. In 1996, T. Willard Fair, the president of the Urban League of Greater Miami, partnered with Governor Jeb Bush to start Florida’s first charter school in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. …Since then, Miami-Dade County has launched 140 charter schools, serving more than 70,000 students, and more than 440 private schools that serve tens of thousands of students with school-choice scholarships. Miami has done well, but now we need to do better. …Moreover, the students who benefit from increased school-choice options are overwhelmingly from historically discriminated-against communities. In a 2019 study, the Urban Institute found students using the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship for lower-income families — 24,502 students in Miami-Dade used them last year — are far more likely than their public-school peers to enroll in colleges and earn bachelor’s degrees. And a 2020 study published by the National Bureau for Economic Research found that, as that same program grew, students in the district schools most affected by competition saw higher test scores.

The moral of the story is that school choice is a win-win for taxpayers and students.

Now let’s shift to the politics of school choice.

That normally means focusing on the baleful role of teacher unions, which place their personal self interest above student outcomes.

But there’s also the red-vs.-blue dynamic. In a report for the American Enterprise Institute, Jay Greene and Lindsey Burke analyze some of the challenges of trying to enact bipartisan choice legislation.

…in their quest for broader support, choice proponents have conceded to Democrats’ policy demands that ultimately weaken the options available to families: limited student eligibility, heavy-handed standardized tests and regulations, caps on scholarship amounts and student participation, and admissions regulations. Not only has that approach weakened many school choice programs, but it doesn’t appear to have actually won Democratic policymakers’ support. It may have even alienated Republican policymakers who were on the fence about supporting school choice. …Any Democratic support has been for modest or heavily regulated programs, such as the voucher program in Louisiana. The Louisiana voucher program suffers under a mountain of regulations that has discouraged private schools from participating, so much so that only one-third of the state’s private schools will accept the vouchers. …What does this all mean for private school choice proponents? It means supporters should not be afraid to make what is likely our most compelling case: that education freedom is fundamentally about enabling parents to choose learning environments that align with their values. …choice proponents should embrace and be vocal about school choice allowing families an escape hatch from government schools pushing an agenda that runs counter to their values. In other words, choice proponents should be unafraid to appeal to Republicans. …proponents have not made the cultural case for choice to the Republican base, for fear of losing Democratic legislative allies, who, it turns out, weren’t really there to begin with.

I’m a policy wonk rather than political pundit, so my only comment is that proponents shouldn’t give up on bipartisanship.

There’s new legislation in Georgia to enable choice and it has several Democratic cosponsors. If enacted, this could be even bigger news than last-year’s victory in West Virginia.

And I’ve already lauded the powerful words of Justin Wayne, a Democratic member of Nebraska’s legislature.

Speaking of politics, another complication is that charter schools (a type of choice in the government system) may undermine private schools.

Christopher Bedford explains this problem in an article for the Federalist.

Search the Lehigh Valley papers and you’ll find Catholic school after Catholic school closing down. In March 2018, Our Lady Help of Christians in Allentown closed its doors. In June 2020, Sacred Heart School in Bath and St. Francis Academy in Bally shut down. And last May, Trinity Academy in Shenandoah became the latest victim. …Charter schools are booming in Pennsylvania. …enrollment at charters rose by 25,000 last year; about 10 percent of all children in the state are enrolled in them. There are at least 14 charter schools in the Lehigh Valley region so far. …Often, in fact, the arrival of a charter is the death knell for a parochial school. In New York state, a 2012 study found that for every charter school that opened, a parochial school closed. …This is the kind of mutilated, self-defeating “victory” we see on the right far too often. Democratic teachers unions were weakened, and public school bureaucrats faced some small level of competition. …But in the big picture, parents and their children are still at the mercy of a government bureaucracy… Still, for a lot of parents, the choice is simple: They know public schools are poisonous, and now they have an alternative that doesn’t cost them a dime in tuition. And so, charter schools are booming, while parochial schools are slowly withering and dying.

This creates a quandary.

Charter schools are better than regular government schools.

But it would be a Pyrrhic Victory if the expansion of such schools undermines the vitality of private schools.

P.S. Many rich folks on the left believe in private schools, but only for their own kids.

P.P.S. There’s also evidence that school choice is better for children’s mental health since it’s associated with lower suicide rates. That’s a nice fringe benefit, much like the data on school choice and jobs.

P.P.P.S. Getting rid of the Department of Education would be a good idea, but the battle for school choice is largely won and lost on the state and local level.

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When contemplating the issue of school choice, it’s most important to focus on how we can improve educational outcomes, particularly for children from low-income communities.

But, as a fiscal economist, I can’t help thinking about how school choice is also good news for taxpayers.

And I also can’t help but notice that opponents are often very hypocritical.

What do these opponents of choice have in common? What drives their hypocrisy?

Simply stated, they put the interests of teacher unions above the interests of children.

Speaking of which, the NH Journal recently reported on another glaring case of hypocrisy.

One of New Hampshire’s most outspoken school choice opponents stunned reform advocates Friday when she admitted she had pulled her son out of public school to attend a private academy… Advocates for education reform were stunned. “I’m sure Rep. Porter had good reasons for choosing a private school for her own child, and other families have good reasons as well,” said Jason Bedrick, Policy Director at EdChoice. “It’s a shame she’s seeking to deny families the same opportunities she and her children had.” …Porter’s stance highlights what supporters of EFAs and similar programs say is the hypocrisy of their opponents: They oppose letting low-income families use their children’s share of education funding to have the same choices they do. For example, while New Hampshire teachers’ unions are strident opponents of EFAs, multiple studies have found public school teachers are far more likely to send their children to private schools than their fellow parents.

Since we’re on this topic, it reminded me of past examples of education hpocrisy.

For instance, the Daily Caller investigated some of the Democratic Senators who opposed Trump’s Secretary of Education because of her support for school choice.

Lo and behold, they exercised choice for their children while opposing choice for poor kids.

At least seven of the 46 Senate Democrats who voted against Betsy DeVos…currently send or once sent their own children or grandchildren to expensive private schools. …Sen. Al Franken…has two children who attended The Dalton School in New York City… The cost of a single year of tuition for students in kindergarten through 12th grade at Dalton is $44,640. …Sen. Elizabeth Warren…has a granddaughter who rubs shoulders with the children of movie stars at the trendy Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, California. Tuition at Harvard-Westlake costs $35,900 each year. …Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse…has two children. His daughter attended the Wheeler School, a coed day school in Providence where a single year of tuition for sixth grade through 12th grade currently costs $35,215. …Whitehouse…also sent his son to a St. George’s School, a private boarding school… Annual tuition at St. George’s is currently $39,900. …Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand…sends her two school-age children to Capitol Hill Day School… Tuition at the private, progressive bastion currently runs $30,300.00 per year for sixth through eighth grades… Sen. Richard Blumenthal…sent one of his four children to Brunswick School, a private, all-boys day school in Greenwich… A year of high school tuition at Brunswick currently costs $40,450. …Blumenthal sent another one of his kids to Greenwich Academy, an all-girls day school where high school tuition currently runs $41,890. …Sen. Maggie Hassan…daughter attended Phillips Exeter Academy… The cost for a year of tuition and fees at Phillips Exeter is currently $37,875. …Sen. Bob Casey…sent his daughters to Scranton Preparatory School, a private Jesuit school where a year of tuition costs $13,400.

Researching today’s topic, I also came across a column for PJ Media, authored by Tom Knighton, that exposed Matt Damon’s hypocrisy.

I’m a Matt Damon fan. …throughout his career, I’ve also known that he was a rabid leftist… It wasn’t until recently that I learned he was also a grade “A” hypocrite. You see, …he’s not sending his kids to public school. …Damon’s argument is that he can’t find the kind of progressive education he had growing up for his own children, and thus has no choice but to send his own kids to private school. Isn’t that just fascinating? Throughout this country, there are people who are less than thrilled with the school they find their children assigned to due to where they live. Maybe they live in a great neighborhood for their modest income level but the school they’re zoned for is notorious for drugs and violence. Maybe it’s just a bad school. …Damon would have that hardworking family that only wants what’s best for their kids to be forced to attend the bad school with no say in the matter, all while sending his kids to private school because he can’t find quite the same “progressive” education he had as a kid. In other words, because he’s rich, it’s cool for him to be picky about his children’s education, but not for the rest of us.

To be fair, while there are many leftists who are hypocrites (as well as plenty of folks on the right), we should acknowledge that there are counter examples.

Fred Hiatt of the Washington Post made a strong case for school choice back in 2017.

Millions of parents choose to send their children to parochial or other private schools. Millions more decide where to rent or buy a home based on the quality of the local public schools. The only people who do not enjoy this right are those who are too poor to move out of neighborhoods where public schools are failing. A disproportionate number of these are people of color. …Well, here’s a suggestion: DeVos could offer one or two cities the chance to become laboratories of choice. …The federal government would offer financial help… The system would then stop funding schools and begin funding families. Every child would be given an annual scholarship. Poor children, who often enter school needing extra attention, would get bigger scholarships. …Every school would then have to compete for students. Principals would be allowed to hire the teachers they wanted. …positive change would be almost immediate: Poor parents, so often ignored and disrespected by public school bureaucrats, suddenly would find themselves being wooed and treated as valued customers. …positive results might soon become self-reinforcing: High-performing schools would attract more students, low performers would have to improve or close.

Heck, the official editorial position of the Washington Post is favorable to school choice, notwithstanding the paper’s generally left-leaning outlook.

These honest and ethical leftists should be applauded.

Let’s close by celebrating the fact that 2021 was a great year for school choice and educational freedom (especially in West Virginia).

J.D. Tuccille of Reason has a new article pointing out that not only was it “a ‘historic’ year for school choice,” but it also has resulted in much greater levels of acceptance for alternatives to the government monopoly.

…accelerated by pandemic-era stresses, innovations in recent years brought big changes to education. The biggest change of all is probably the growing acceptance won by charters, homeschooling, and a host of flexible approaches to teaching kids… “How have your opinions on homeschooling changed as a result of the coronavirus?” EdChoice asks parents every month. In December 2021, 68 percent of respondents reported that they are more favorable to homeschooling than they were before the pandemic. Only 18 percent are less favorable. It’s not just homeschooling. The same survey finds rising support (70 percent) for education savings accounts which allow parents to withdraw their children from public schools and receive a deposit of public funds to pay for education expenses, school vouchers (65 percent) by which public education funds follow students to the schools of their choice, and publicly funded but privately run charter schools (68 percent) like the one my son attended through third grade.

You can see why I listed school choice as one of the best developments for 2021.

P.S. The “Tweet of the Year” for 2021 involved school choice.

P.P.S. There’s strong evidence for school choice from nations such as Canada, SwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

 

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Per tradition (2020, 2019, 2018, etc), we highlight the best and worst developments of the year on December 31.

The choices are based on whether a particular policy increases or decreases individual liberty, either in a big way or a symbolic way.

Interestingly, the coronavirus pandemic doesn’t show up on either the good list or bad list.

Why? Because governments continue to make things worse, but not in ways that are significantly new or different.

With that in mind, let’s look at what happened in 2021, starting with the good news.

The Death of (the horribly misnamed) Build Back Better – President Biden somehow decided a very narrow victory over a very unpopular incumbent meant that he had a mandate for a radical expansion of the welfare state, accompanied by a plethora of class-warfare tax increases. Fortunately, Congress did not approve Biden’s growth-sapping plan.

School Choice Advances – Led by a sweeping plan to empower parents in West Virginia, there were many encouraging victories this year for school choice. And as teacher unions continue to mishandle the pandemic, there’s hope for continued progress next year.

Arizona Tax Reform – Several states lowered tax rates in 2021, but what happened in Arizona deserves special attention. Lawmakers reversed the outcome of a class-warfare referendum, meaning the state’s top tax rate on households will be 4.5 percent rather than 8 percent.

Speaking of referendum results, if we had an “honorable mention” or “runner-up” category, I would list three results from  2021

Now let’s look at the three worst policy developments of 2021.

Biden’s Fake Stimulus and Infrastructure Boondoggle – Even though the so-called Build Back Better plan failed to advance, President Biden was able to significantly increase the burden of government spending with a supposed stimulus plan early in the year, followed by a grab-bag of special-interest handouts as part of “infrastructure” legislation later in the year.

Chile Elects a Hard-Core Leftist President – Much to my dismay, Chilean voters opted for a hard-core leftist president who wants to dismantle the nation’s very successful private social security system. The most economically successful nation in Latin America is now in danger of becoming another Argentina. Or worse.

Global Tax Cartel – While Biden’s proposal for a higher corporate tax rate in the United States did not succeed, he seems to have successfully paved the way for a global tax cartel that will require all nations to have a corporate tax rate of at least 15 percent. This is a victory for politicians over workers, consumers, and shareholders. And it creates a very dangerous precedent.

Let’s also have an honorable mention for bad news.

One positive development during the Trump years was the unwinding of regulations that forced Americans to use crummy, low-flow showerheads.

Well, that victory was short-lived, as captured by this headline from a Reason article.

For what it’s worth, I suspect this bit of bad news will be followed by some bad news on a related issue.

P.S. I thought about including inflation as one of the bad things that happened in 2021, but I think that’s the results of years of misguided monetary policy. Politicians from both parties seem perfectly happy with Keynesian policy from the Federal Reserve.

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I wrote two days ago about how the Supreme Court will be ruling in the next few months on a very important school-choice case, involving whether state and local governments should be allowed to discriminate against religious schools.

As part of that column, I mentioned that “government school systems cost a lot of money and do a bad job.”

Some readers emailed me and expressed disbelief. The common message was that private schools surely had to be more expensive.

There are some very costly private schools, to be sure, but the data clearly show that government schools, on average, consume a lot more money.

I want to build on this message today by calling everyone’s attention to a great report by Martin F. Lueken of edChoice.

Here are some of the key findings from the executive summary.

This study estimates the combined net fiscal effects of each educational choice program on state and local taxpayers… Through FY 2018, the 40 educational choice programs under study generated an estimated $12.4 billion to $28.3 billion in cumulative net fiscal savings for state and local taxpayers. This range represents $3,300 to $7,500 per student participant. …Educational choice programs generated between $1.80 to $2.85 in estimated fiscal savings, on average, for each dollar spent on the programs. These savings result from many of the students who exercised choice who would have been enrolled in a public school if these choice programs did not exist—and enrolled in public schools at a much larger taxpayer cost.

The report is packed with lots of data, including state-by-state estimates of how different choice programs save money.

But if you’re going to digest one set of numbers, Figure 4 tells you just about everything you need to know.

And remember, when you look at these cost comparisons, that private schools produce better outcomes, as measured by student achievement.

P.S. Here’s a must-see chart showing how more and more money for the government school monopoly has produced zero benefit.

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The case for school choice is very straightforward.

The good news is that there was a lot of pro-choice reform in 2021.

West Virginia adopted a statewide system that is based on parental choice. And many other states expanded choice-based programs.

But 2022 may be a good year as well. That’s because the Supreme Court is considering whether to strike down state laws that restrict choice by discriminating against religious schools.

Michael Bindas of the Institute for Justice and Walter Womack of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference make the case for a level playing field in a column for the New York Times.

In 2002, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution allows school choice programs to include schools that provide religious instruction, so long as the voucher program also offers secular options. The question now before the court is whether a state may nevertheless exclude schools that provide religious instruction. The case, Carson v. Makin, …concerns Maine’s tuition assistance program. In that large and sparsely populated state, over half of the school districts have no public high schools. If a student lives in such a district, and it does not contract with another high school to educate its students, then the district must pay tuition for the student to attend the school of her or his parents’ choice. …But one type of school is off limits: a school that provides religious instruction. That may seem unconstitutional, and we argue that it is. Only last year, the Supreme Court, citing the free exercise clause of the Constitution, held that states cannot bar students in a school choice program from selecting religious schools when it allows them to choose other private schools. …The outcome will be enormously consequential for families in public schools that are failing them and will go a long way toward determining whether the most disadvantaged families can exercise the same control over the education of their children as wealthier citizens.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized on this issue earlier this week.

Maine has one of the country’s oldest educational choice systems, a tuition program for students who live in areas that don’t run schools of their own. Instead these families get to pick a school, and public funds go toward enrollment. Religious schools are excluded, however, and on Wednesday the Supreme Court will hear from parents who have closely read the First Amendment. …Maine argues it isn’t denying funds based on the religious “status” of any school… The state claims, rather, that it is merely refusing to allocate money for a “religious use,” specifically, “an education designed to proselytize and inculcate children with a particular faith.” In practice, this distinction between “status” and “use” falls apart. Think about it: Maine is happy to fund tuition at an evangelical school, as long as nothing evangelical is taught. Hmmm. …A state can’t subsidize tuition only for private schools with government-approved values, and trying to define the product as “secular education” gives away the game. …America’s Founders knew what they were doing when they wrote the First Amendment to protect religious “free exercise.”

What does the other side say?

Rachel Laser, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, doesn’t want religious schools to be treated equally under school choice programs.

Here’s some of her column in the Washington Post.

…two sets of parents in Maine claim that the Constitution’s promise of religious freedom actually requires the state to fund religious education at private schools with taxpayer dollars — as a substitute for public education. This interpretation flips the meaning of religious freedom on its head and threatens both true religious freedom and public education. …The problem here is even bigger than public funds paying for praying, as wrong as that is. Unlike public schools, private religious schools often do not honor civil rights protections, especially for LGBTQ people, women, students with disabilities, religious minorities and the nonreligious. …If the court were to agree with the parents, it would also be rejecting the will of three-quarters of the states, which long ago enacted clauses in their state constitutions and passed statutes specifically prohibiting public funding of religious education. …It is up to parents and religious communities to educate their children in their faith. Publicly funded schools should never serve that purpose.

These arguments are not persuasive.

The fact that many state constitutions include so-called Blaine amendments actually undermines her argument since those provisions were motivated by a desire to discriminate against parochial schools that provided education to Catholic immigrants.

And it’s definitely not clear why school choice shouldn’t include religious schools that follow religious teachings, unless she also wants to argue that student grants and loans shouldn’t go to students at Notre Dame, Brigham Young, Liberty, and other religiously affiliated colleges.

The good news is that Ms. Laser’s arguments don’t seem to be winning. Based on this report from yesterday’s Washington Post, authored by Robert Barnes, there are reasons to believe the Justices will make the right decision.

Conservatives on the Supreme Court seemed…critical of a Maine tuition program that does not allow public funds to go to schools that promote religious instruction. The case involves an unusual program in a small state that affects only a few thousand students. But it could have greater implications… The oral argument went on for nearly two hours and featured an array of hypotheticals. …But the session ended as most suspected it would, with the three liberal justices expressing support for Maine and the six conservatives skeptical that it protected religious parents from unconstitutional discrimination.

I can’t resist sharing this additional excerpt about President Biden deciding to side with teacher unions instead of students.

The Justice Department switched its position in the case after President Biden was inaugurated and now supports Maine.

But let’s not dwell on Biden’s hackery (especially since that’s a common affliction on the left).

Instead, let’s close with some uplifting thoughts about what might happen if we get a good decision from the Supreme Court when decisions are announced next year.

Maybe I’m overly optimistic, but I think we’re getting close to a tipping point. As more and more states and communities shift to choice, we will have more and more evidence that it’s a win-win for both families and taxpayers.

Which will lead to more choice programs, which will produce more helpful data.

Lather, rinse, repeat. No wonder the (hypocritical) teacher unions are so desperate to stop progress.

P.S. There’s strong evidence for school choice from nations such as SwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

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The most powerful argument for school choice is that children from poor families will be more likely to get a high-quality education. After all, these are the kids most likely to be trapped in failing government schools.

But there are lots of secondary arguments for school choice.

Today, we’re going to add to this list by considering the current controversy over whether “critical race theory” should be taught in schools.

I won’t bother trying to put forth my own definition of CRT.

But, for what it’s worth, I think it’s a good thing if kids learn that the United States (like all nations) has an imperfect history, while it’s wrong if kids are brainwashed into believing that they are either oppressors or victims simply because of skin color.

But what about people who think differently? Should I decide what schools teach, or should other people make those choices?

The right answer is that we don’t need a one-size-fits-all approach. Either mine or anyone else’s.

In a column for Reason, J.D. Tuccille says school choice is a way of letting parents pick the schools that best reflect their values.

…some states are banning the teaching of CRT—an approach that threatens to turn advocates of the ideology into free speech martyrs fighting the entrenched establishment. …families that choose how their children learn—my own included—rather than defaulting to government-run institutions…have largely escaped these battles. By homeschooling, or micro-schooling, or picking private or charter schools, we can avoid curricula permeated with ideas we find toxic… Parents that…support CRT also have alternatives to battling over the content of schoolroom lessons. They can introduce their tykes to Ibram X. Kendi’s Antiracist Baby Picture Book, marinate their kids in CRT-infused homeschooling, or send them to one of many private schools that offer willing families an education steeped in the ideology. …if that’s what they want their kids to learn, let them do so in peace, and without zero-sum arguments about what children are taught in shared institutions.

Amen.

Critical race theory won’t be nearly so controversial if we let parents choose the type of education that’s best for their kids.

And the same is true for other contentious issues, ranging from phonics to prayer.

No wonder more and more states are shifting in the right direction on this issue.

P.S. If you want to learn more about school choice, I recommend this video.

P.P.S. It’s uplifting to see very successful school choice systems operate in nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

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After three columns on the topic in the past five weeks (see here, here, and here), I wasn’t expecting to write again about school choice anytime soon, but this speech by State Senator Justin Wayne of Nebraska must be watched.

What a great idea! All politicians who vote against school choice have to send their kids to the crummy government schools in their states and districts.

That wouldn’t be good news for hypocrites like Barack Obama (and his Secretary of Education), Elizabeth Warren, Democratic congressional candidates, and the head of a teacher union.

Heck, we could create a giant list of all the rich leftists who exercise choice for their own children while voting to deny similar opportunities for kids from families that don’t have lots of money.

And this is why I’m overjoyed that we have seen a lot of progress on the issue this year.

And it’s continuing. Here are excerpts from an editorial in the Wall Street Journal about recent steps to expand choice in Florida.

Florida already has among the most expansive school-choice offerings in the nation, and this week the Legislature expanded private-school vouchers to more families. …The bill increases the eligible household income cap from 300% to 375% of the poverty level—about $100,000 for a family of four—though it prioritizes households under 185%. The enrollment cap will continue to escalate by 1% of public-school enrollment annually, allowing roughly 28,000 new students each year. …One of the bill’s biggest boons is extending scholarships to students already in private school. …Florida is a haven for overtaxed northerners, but it’s also an education refuge for low- and middle-income families.

Also in the Wall Street Journal, Paul Peterson of Harvard has a column on how government lockdowns have created an opening for expanded educational freedom.

President Biden wants credit for opening up the nation’s schools within 100 days of taking office. …The big news at the 100-day mark isn’t school opening but the revival of the school-choice movement. …school-choice advocates have scored big victories around the country. Indiana enlarged its voucher program. Montana lifted caps on charter schools. Arkansas now offers tax-credit scholarships to low-income students. West Virginia and Kentucky have funded savings accounts that help parents pay tuition at private schools. Florida, a movement leader, has enlarged its tax-credit scholarship programs. Even Rhode Island Gov. Dan McKee promises to veto a moratorium on new charter schools. …The pandemic is the driving force. The failure of the public schools to educate children in the past year has angered parents and policy makers. …the loss of learning and social connectivity produced by school closures has been devastating, especially for low-income minority children. …Survey data show a rise in the level of support over the past two years for vouchers, charters and tax-credit scholarships. Political leaders sense a change in the public mood. After aggressive unions and bewildered school boards shut down schools for a year, the choice bandwagon has begun to roll.

Let’s hope that choice bandwagon rolls further. It will be great for kids.

And, given the importance of quality education for competitiveness, it will be great for the nation as well.

P.S. I’m disgusted by the hypocritical politicians who send their kids to private schools while voting against school choice for the rest of us. But I’m even more disgusted – and baffled – that the NAACP opposes school choice when minority children have the most to gain.

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I’m pessimistic about the direction of public policy, especially on fiscal issues such as taxes and spending.

But there is a silver lining to this dark cloud of statism. We’re seeing continuing progress on school choice, most notably a big expansion of educational freedom in West Virginia.

It appears more and more state and local policy makers are reaching the inevitable conclusion that government schools operate for the benefit of teacher unions rather than students.

And this is motivating many legislators to push for school choice, especially since there’s more and more evidence that school choice improves educational outcomes.

For instance, the Wall Street Journal opined last week about a new victory in Indiana.

Ten years ago in these columns, we hailed Indiana for its leadership in establishing one of America’s most ambitious school voucher programs. On Thursday the Indiana Legislature built on that achievement by approving a budget that will take the program to 48,000 students a year from about 37,000. …The teachers unions are unhappy. Their beef is that money to expand choice is taken from traditional public schools. And this year they lobbied local school boards to pass resolutions opposed to school choice. But that common union line about choice robbing public schools isn’t true. …92% of Indiana students will be in traditional public schools, and 93% of all education funding will go to these schools. …Since 2011, when Indiana pushed through its first voucher plan, more than a quarter-million Hoosier students have benefited. In an interview with Today’s Catholic, former Gov. Mitch Daniels explains the moral logic of choice this way: “Providing poor and minority families the same choice of schools that their wealthier neighbors enjoy is the purest example of ‘social justice’ in our society today.”

Meanwhile, Arkansas may be on the verge of adding to the good news.

Here are some excerpts from an article by Jason Bedrick in National Review.

In response to families demanding more educational options, six states have already passed new choice policies or expanded existing ones this year, and similar bills are still making their way through more than a dozen other state legislatures. …the Arkansas state senate…passed Senate Bill 680, which has the support of Governor Asa Hutchinson and the Arkansas Department of Education, by an overwhelming margin. Although only half the size of the previous proposal and limited only to low-income children, the bill still represents a major step toward providing broad access to educational choice. The Arkansas House now has another opportunity to do right by Arkansas families desperate for more educational options. …the Arkansas House Revenue and Taxation Committee voted to recommend that the full House pass the bill.

The superintendents of government schools are fighting to preserve the status quo. Their main argument is that choice will hurt outcomes for students stuck in their schools.

But competition encourages everyone to do better, and Jason shares some of the evidence about government schools doing better when there is school choice .

The research about the effects of educational-choice policies on public schools…overwhelmingly finds that such policies benefit not only participating students, but also the students who remain in their assigned district schools. Out of 27 studies, 25 find that students attending district schools improve their performance on standardized tests after the introduction of a choice program, while only one study found a negative effect, and one found no visible effect. …a recent study by the University of Arkansas found that states with robust educational-choice policies saw significant improvements on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (known as the “Nation’s Report Card”) over the last two decades. …The sky isn’t falling in any of the 29 states that have some form of private-school-choice program. Indeed, the sun is still shining on their public-school systems, which have not only not collapsed but are actually performing better than before.

Fingers crossed that Arkansas lawmakers do what’s right for kids rather than siding with the education bureaucracy.

Let’s conclude with this video from the Institute of Justice, which makes the point that school choice is especially critical for those with low incomes and other challenging backgrounds.

I shared a similar video back in 2016 as part of a column about why school choice is critical for black children.

P.S. If you want to learn more about school choice, I recommend this video.

P.P.S. It’s uplifting to see very successful school choice systems operate in nations such as CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

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I wrote one week ago about a big victory for education in West Virginia. The Mountain State arguably now has the most extensive system of school choice in the country.

This will be great for parents and children.

There’s a lot of research showing better educational outcomes when families have options other than low-performing, monopoly-based government schools.

Now we have some additional good news.

Kentucky legislators have just overridden the governor’s veto, meaning that students in the state will now have expanded educational opportunities. Eric Boehm of Reason has some of the details.

The new law, originally House Bill 563, allows students in Kentucky public schools to switch school districts, and it creates a new tax-advantaged education savings program for families to use for private school tuition, to pay for tutoring, or to cover other educational expenses. The most controversial part of the proposal was the creation of a $25 million scholarship fund—to be filled by donations from private businesses, for which they would receive state tax credits—that students in Kentucky’s largest counties can tap to help pay for private school tuition. …With the passage of the first school choice bill in state history, Kentucky is now the 28th state with some form of school choice.

Speaking of other states, the Wall Street Journal editorialized about the beginning of a very good trend.

The pandemic has been a revelation for many Americans about union control of public schools… That awakening is helping to spur some welcome reform progress as several state legislatures are moving to expand school choice. One breakthrough is in West Virginia, where the Legislature passed a bill creating the state’s first education savings account (ESA) program. …Meanwhile in Georgia, the House passed a bill last week that would expand eligibility for the state’s voucher program for special-education students. The Senate, which had already passed the legislation, voted to approve House amendments on Monday and the bill is headed to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk. In South Dakota this month, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem signed a bill that expands eligibility for the state’s tax-credit scholarship program to students already enrolled in private schools. …in Kentucky, where Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed a bill last week that would establish a new tax-credit scholarship program. But the state legislature voted late Monday to override the veto… Nearly 50 school-choice bills have been introduced this year in 30 states. It’s a testament to how school shutdowns have made the advantage of education choice more evident, and its need more urgent.

By the way, school choice has existed for a long time in Vermont. Yes, the state that regularly reelects Crazy Bernie has dozens of small towns that give vouchers to students. Laura Williams explains in an article for the Foundation for Economic Education.

Vermont’s “tuition towns”…distribute government education funds to parents, who choose the educational experience that is best suited to their family’s needs. If the school doesn’t perform up to parents’ expectations, they can take their children, and the tuition dollars they control, elsewhere. …Ninety-three Vermont towns (36 percent of its 255 municipalities) have no government-run school at all. …the funds local governments expect to spend per pupil are instead given directly to the parents of school-age children. This method gives lower- and middle-income parents the same superpower wealthy families have always had: school choice. …parents have the ability to put their kids in school anywhere, to buy the educational experience best suited to each child. …A variety of schools has arisen to compete for these tuition dollars. …Eligibility for tuition vouchers actually increased home values in towns that closed their public schools. Outsiders were eager to move to these areas… Having watched these models develop nearby, two more Vermont towns voted in 2013 to close their government-run schools and become “tuition towns” instead.

Rhode Island is another unexpected example. That deep-blue state recently expanded charter schools in Providence.

That’s not as good a genuine school choice, but it gives parents some ability to escape traditional government schools. The Wall Street Journal opined last year on this development.

…this particular hell may have frozen over, as last week the state’s education council voted to expand and open more charter schools to rescue students in the district. About 13% of Providence’s 30,000 students attend 28 charter schools, some in other districts. But demand far exceeds supply. Only 18% of the 5,000 or so charter school applicants were offered a seat this school year, according to the state education department. …The state education council last week gave preliminary approval for more than 5,700 new charter seats in Providence and other districts. Three of four new charters that applied got a green-light to open, pending final approval in the spring, and three existing charters (two of which serve Providence) are expanding. …The teachers union isn’t happy. In a letter to Gov. Gina Raimondo, three union leaders including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten complained… This is the usual rhetorical union trick. Charters are public schools, albeit without the barnacles and costs of union control.

Let’s now add to our collection of evidence about the benefits of school choice.

In an article for National Review, James Piereson and Noami Schaefer Riley discuss the track record of the Children’s Scholarship Fund.

Children’s Scholarship Fund enables low-income children to attend private schools — and thrive. …parents who receive financial aid from the organization…send their children to inner-city private (mostly Catholic) schools. …When it came to how satisfied they were with their children’s education, almost 90 percent graded their school a 4 or 5 out of 5. …Since its inception in 1998, the fund has helped more than 180,000 children attend private schools. CSF’s high-school graduation and college matriculation rates far surpass those of the urban public schools that surround them. In Philadelphia, for instance, 96 percent of CSF eighth-graders graduated from high school on schedule — compared with Philadelphia’s public-school graduation rate of only 62 percent. A study of CSF in Baltimore found that 84 percent of scholarship recipients were enrolled in college five to ten years after completing eighth grade, compared with fewer than half of students from local public schools. Nor are these high-priced private schools. The average tuition at these schools is about $5,300 per year, and the average scholarship award is $2,200.

Why do even low-cost private schools out-perform expensive government schools?

Because they have to deliver a good product. Either that, or parents will take their money elsewhere.

It’s a simple question of incentives, as illustrated by this meme about why private schools have been much better than government schools during the pandemic.

While the obvious argument for school choice is that it delivers better educational outcomes (and at lower cost), it’s worth noting that there are all sorts of secondary benefits.

As explained by W. Bradford Wilcox in an article for the American Enterprise Institute, private schools produce better families.

The public debate surrounding the efficacy of private versus public schools tends to revolve around their relative success in boosting test scores, graduation rates, and college admissions. …But there is more to life than excelling at school and work. For instance, there is the opportunity to be formed into a woman or man of good character, a good citizen, or a good partner and parent. …Until now, however, we have known little about how different types of schools are linked to students’ family life as adults. …In this report, we examine how enrollment in American Catholic, Protestant, secular private, and public schools is associated with different family outcomes later in life. …Adults who attended Protestant schools are more than twice as likely to be in an intact marriage as those who attended public schools. They are also about 50% less likely than public-school attendees to have a child out of wedlock. …Compared with public-school attendees, ever-married adults who attended a secular private school are about 60% less likely to have ever divorced. Catholic-school attendees are about 30% less likely to have had a child out of wedlock than those who attended public schools.

And Corey CeAngelis notes in this tweet that school choice reduces segregation.

And the Wall Street Journal editorialized last December about school choice improving mental health.

Teachers unions have pushed to shut down schools during the pandemic no matter the clear harm to children, just as they oppose charters and vouchers. Now comes a timely study suggesting school choice improves student mental health. Several studies have found that school choice reduces arrests and that private-school students experience less bullying. One reason is that charter and private schools enforce stricter discipline than traditional public schools. …The new study in the journal “School Effectiveness and School Improvement” is the first to…analyze the correlation between adolescent suicide rates and the enactment of private-school voucher and charter programs over the last several decades. They find that states that enacted charter school laws witnessed a 10% decrease in suicide rates among 15- to 19-year-olds. Private-school voucher laws were also associated with fewer suicides, though the change was not statistically significant. The effect would likely be larger if more students received vouchers. …The researchers also looked for any correlation between students who attended private school as teenagers and their mental health as adults. …individuals who attended private schools were two percentage-points less likely to report a mental health condition when they were roughly 30 years old.

Let’s conclude with some excerpts from a strong editorial from National Review. The magazine points out that teacher unions wield power in blue parts of the nation and schools are run for their benefit rather than for the best interests of children.

…the interests of children and their families take a distant second place to the desires of the public-sector unions that dominate Democratic politics around the country and run the show practically unopposed in California. …unionized teachers…have turned up their noses at the children they are supposed to be serving and looked instead to their own two-point agenda: (1) not going to work; (2) getting paid. Randi Weingarten exercises more real practical political power than any senator or cabinet secretary, and her power is exercised exclusively in the interest of public-sector workers and the Democratic Party, which they effectively control. Perhaps it is time for Americans to take back some of that power.

And what’s the way to take back power?

It’s possible to reform labor laws so teachers don’t have out-sized influence. That sort of happened in Wisconsin under Governor Scott Walker.

But that’s difficult to achieve and difficult to maintain.

The best long-run answer is to have school choice so parents are in charge rather than union bosses.

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As a public finance economist, I’m a huge fan of fiscal reforms such as a spending cap or a flat tax.

But, if asked to pick the reform that would have the biggest positive impact for the United States, I’d be very tempted to pick school choice.

Largely because of the pernicious effect of teacher unions, government schools are doing a poor job of educating children. Especially considering the record amounts of money that’s being dumped into the system.

Which is why I’m very excited that we’re about to see a massive expansion of school choice in West Virginia.

The state legislature has enacted and the governor is expected to sign (fingers crossed!) legislation creating education savings accounts (ESAs) providing $4,600 per child.

These accounts, called Hope Scholarships, will be available to all families with kids in government schools (and every single new kindergarten student). Parents then can use the funds for private school tuition, homeschooling expenses, and a range of other approved items.

The state’s leading think tank, the Cardinal Institute, has a primer on the issue.

ESAs allow parents to apply for eligible students to receive the state portion of education funds into a personal, parent-controlled account. Parents are then empowered to customize an education experience that meets the individual needs of their child, using their account to pay for approved services like tuition, therapy, tutoring, textbooks, and more. …the bill would extend ESAs to students who are enrolled in a public elementary or secondary school… parents will only be able to purchase approved items and services. This makes ESAs as—if not more—transparent than any other form of education spending. …The key aspect that distinguishes ESAs from vouchers is parent control and customization. Instead of the state sending funds directly from the state to a specific private school, the state instead deposits funds into a parent-controlled account. These funds can then be spent on wide array of approved education services, not only tuition

Corey DeAngelis and Neal McCluskey address some of the hot-button issues in an article for Reason.

West Virginia’s public schools spend an average of $12,644 per child per year, while the estimated amount of funding that would follow the child under HB 2013 would be about $4,600. If the legislation becomes law, public schools would keep large amounts of funding for children even after they left, meaning they would end up with more money per child. …choice opponents in the state also are claiming that $4,600 is too low to cover private school tuition. But do those same people oppose Pell Grants just because they don’t cover the full cost of attending many universities? …And $4,600 would actually go a long way in West Virginia as the average private school tuition in the state is just $6,068 and the average elementary school cost is $4,890. …The worst thing about anti-school choice myths is that they disproportionately prevent the least advantaged from access to much-needed education options.

Amen to the last point.

School choice should be the civil rights issue of the 21st century since black and brown kids are the biggest victims of the government school monopoly.

I’ll close by observing that teacher unions traditionally have done a very good job of protecting their monopoly. Every time I think a state is poised to make progress on school choice (most recently in Pennsylvania and Colorado), the unions dump tons of money into campaigns so they can maintain their privileges.

Assuming West Virginia’s Republican governor, Jim Justice, doesn’t betray children by unexpectedly vetoing the legislation, the union win streak will have ended.

P.S. Here’s a video explaining the benefits of school choice.

P.P.S. There’s international evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands, all of which shows superior results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

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Government schools in America are a national disgrace.

Every year, we throw more money into the system and every year we get back mediocre results.

The numbers are especially depressing when you compare how other nations get better outcomes while having significantly lower levels of per-pupil spending.

Given this grim situation, I’m always on the lookout for analysis that can help us figure out how to make things better.

Though some people seemingly want to make things worse.

In an article for the Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan reveals how elite private schools have become high-pressure pathways for entrance to elite colleges. It’s a fascinating – and even disturbing – look at the life of people (mostly) in the top-1 percent.

But what grabbed my attention was her conclusion. She accurately observes that government schools do a crappy job, but then suggests that high-performing private schools are the problem.

In a just society, there wouldn’t be a need for these expensive schools, or for private wealth to subsidize something as fundamental as an education. We wouldn’t give rich kids and a tiny number of lottery winners an outstanding education while so many poor kids attend failing schools. In a just society, an education wouldn’t be a luxury item. …We’ve allowed the majority of our public schools to founder, while expensive private schools play an outsize role in determining who gets to claim a coveted spot in the winners’ circle. …Public-school education—the specific force that has helped generations of Americans transcend the circumstances of their birth—is profoundly, perhaps irreparably, broken. In my own state of California, only half of public-school students are at grade level in reading, and even fewer are in math. …Shouldn’t the schools that serve poor children be the very best schools we have?

At the risk of understatement, this point of view (the article’s headline in the print edition is “Private Schools Are Indefensible”) is utterly perverse.

If we know that private schools do a better job (and not just the super-elite schools discussed in the article), then the ethical answer should be to get rid of the government school monopoly and adopt a system of school choice so that the children of non-rich families also have an opportunity to get a quality education.

That would be good for kids and it would be good for taxpayers (we’re spending record amounts of money on the failed government school monopoly, so turning that money into vouchers would provide enough funding for families to afford the vast majority of private schools).

But this brings up another issue. What if leftists aren’t just against private education? What if they also object to any sort of system where better students get better outcomes?

Chester Finn of the Hoover Institution wrote a column last November for the Wall Street Journal about the efforts to undermine the tiny handful of high-performing government schools.

Nationwide, selective-admission public schools, also known as “exam schools,” are under attack… Much like elite universities, critics allege, these schools have been admitting far too many whites and Asians and not nearly enough blacks and Latinos. …in New York, …admission…is governed by the eighth-grader’ scores on a specialized admission test. …there’s no denying that they’re full of Asian and white kids, many from low-income and middle-class families. …Mayor Bill de Blasio and his schools chancellor have recently pushed to make the admissions process more “equitable.” They want to…abolish the entry exam…[i]nstead of repairing the elementary and middle schools attended by poor and minority kids… Consider another furor in Virginia, over admission to the esteemed Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Fairfax County, regularly ranked the country’s top high school by U.S. News. Thomas Jefferson is in such demand that it can accept fewer than 1 in 6 applicants. …The Fairfax County superintendent and board last month moved to abolish the qualification exam… the remedies being sought in every case are wrongheaded. …School systems…have to face the reality that some kids are smarter and more motivated than others, no matter their color. That’s anathema to “progressive” reformers, who prefer to abolish accelerated classes for high achievers. …The progressive assault on education in the name of equity ends up denying smart kids from every background the kind of education that will assist them to make the most of their abilities.

I’m almost at a loss for words.

For all intents and purposes, our friends on the left would rather have everyone be mediocre than allow some students to succeed.

  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by attending private school.
  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by attending so-called exam schools.
  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by taking accelerated classes.
  • They don’t want some kids to succeed by attending charter schools.
  • They don’t want some kid to succeed by being home-schooled.

This hostility to achievement is reprehensible.

Part of it is probably motivated by a cynical attempt to appease teacher unions.

And part of it is presumably the ideological belief in equality of outcomes rather than equality of opportunity, even if the net result is that all students are worse off (the same perverse instinct that leads them to support economic policies that hurt the poor so long as the rich get hurt more).

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I have a Bureaucrat Hall of Fame to highlight government employees who have turned sloth and overcompensation into an art form, and I have a Moocher Hall of Fame to illustrate the destructive entitlement mindset that exists when politicians pay people to do nothing.

I’m now thinking we also need another Hall of Fame to bring attention to the despicable people who oppose school choice because currying favor with teacher unions is more important than giving poor children an opportunity for a good education.

Some of the charter members would include:

And we many need to include Joe Biden on this tawdry list.

We’ll know soon enough. There’s a federally funded school choice program in Washington, DC, and time will tell whether the President intends to kill it.

In a column for the Wall Street Journal, Virginia Walden Ford expresses hope that President Biden won’t sacrifice the needs of minority children in the nation’s capital.

I hope his administration doesn’t tear down a program that has brought hope to thousands of African-American children in the District of Columbia. In 2004, Congress created the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. …In 2020-21, 82% of scholarship recipients identified as African-American and another 12% as Hispanic. While scholarships for poor children of color should hold bipartisan appeal, the…2020 Biden-Sanders “unity” platform went out of its way to recommend defunding the program.

Ms. Ford isn’t opposed to government schools, but she does want poor kids to have the same opportunity as Joe Biden’s kids.

I strongly support both public education and school choice. I attended public schools, and my father served as the first African-American school administrator in Little Rock, Ark.—for which my family received a burning cross on our front yard. …What really undermines public education is attempts from elites to keep good education for themselves… Mr. Biden’s children went to private schools. Why shouldn’t my former neighbors in Southeast Washington have the opportunity to do so too?

I’ll close by observing that many of the people opposing school choice are total hypocrites. They send their kids to private schools while fighting to deny hope and opportunity for children from poor families.

Including Senator Elizabeth Warren and Obama’s Education Secretary, both of whom also would be charter members of a new Hall of Fame for policy makers who care more about union bosses than poor kids.

There are folks on the left who have genuine integrity on this issue, including the editors at the Washington Post.

P.S. At the risk of stating the obvious, the solution is not dumping more money into government-run schools. We’ve tried that and tried that and tried that, over and over again, and it never works.

P.P.S. For example, Bush’s No Child Left Behind (which I call No Bureaucrat Left Behind) was a failure, as was Obama’s Common Core.

P.P.P.S. Instead of throwing good money after bad and imposing more centralization, getting rid of the Department of Education in Washington would be a far-preferable approach (we’d be copying Canada with that approach).

P.P.P.P.S. If you want evidence on the benefits of school choice, click here, here, here, here, here, and here.

P.P.P.P.P.S. There’s also international evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands, all of which shows superior results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

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Coronavirus has been a dark cloud. But if we want to find a silver lining, the government’s bungled response to the pandemic has exposed some weaknesses in the government school monopoly.

And this could mean opportunity for competing structures that can do a better job of educating kids.

  • School choice – An approach where parents get vouchers that they can send their kids to schools, either government or private, that compete to best serve their needs and interests.
  • Home schooling – An approach where parents direct their children’s education, often in cooperation with other parents and experts who specialize in certain fields.
  • Charter schools – An approach where education entrepreneurs (often groups of parents) set up government schools that operate outside of the existing monopoly.

Even before the coronavirus, there was plenty of evidence against the government’s monopoly.

Politicians have been shoveling ever-larger amounts of money into the system. Yet student outcomes have not improved.

Why? Part of the answer is that too many schools systems are run for the benefit of teacher unions, with student outcomes being a secondary (at best) concern.

And that problem has become increasingly apparent because of the pandemic.

But, in an article for Reason, Matt Welch hopes the despicable behavior of teacher unions may lead to long-overdue reforms.

…in the COVID-scarred year of 2020. Teachers unions, and the (largely Democratic) politicians they back, have relentlessly limited parental choice in the name of maximizing the autonomy of teachers to opt out of classrooms while still getting paid. No other country in the industrialized world has closed schools down to this degree. …The remote learning that tens of millions of kids are suffering through nationally is broadly understood to be a disaster. The results are as predictable as day following night: Parents are pulling their kids out of public schools. …I’m furious that public schools have used our money to fail poor kids. …unions and their allies have made America a global outlier in keeping schools shut, driving parents away from the systems, and some cities, in droves. …the same guilds that have such a concentrated amount of power are soon going to find themselves having to explain to the rank and file just why there aren’t as many jobs anymore.

Or, maybe the union bosses should explain why sauce for the goose isn’t also sauce for the gander.

They vigorously defend their jobs and perks, but they often make sure their kids aren’t victimized by the system.

For instance, here’s the headline of a story forwarded to me by a reader.

Not that I’m surprised.

I’ve shared many examples of two-faced behavior by defenders of the government education monopoly – crummy schools for the children of ordinary people but high-quality private schools for their kids.

So can we hope for reform?

Most of the action will need to take place at the state and local level, but the federal government unfortunately has been playing a bigger role in schooling, so it’s also worth paying attention to what we’ll get from the Biden Administration.

In a column for New York, Jonathan Chait worries that Democrats are so cowed by teacher unions that they aren’t even willing to maintain support for charter schools.

…charter schools have produced dramatic learning gains for low-income minority students. In city after city, from New York to New Orleans, charters have found ways to reach the children who have been most consistently failed by traditional schools. The evidence for their success has become overwhelming, with apolitical education researchers pronouncing themselves shocked at the size of the gains. …in 2015, a survey focused on charters in urban districts, where education reformers have concentrated their energies (and where gains have outpaced suburban and rural areas). It found urban charters on average gave their students the equivalent of 40 additional school days of learning in math and 28 additional days of learning in reading every year. CREDO’s studies confirm the conclusion that the lottery studies have found: In most cases, urban charters now provide the same group of students much better instruction. …The ability of urban charters all over the country to get nonselective groups of poor, Black students to learn at the same level as students in affluent, middle-class schools is one of the great domestic-policy achievements in American history.

Chait is on the left, but he’s honest.

So he recognizes that this is a battle over what really matters – currying favor with teacher unions or delivering better education for kids.

The final element of charters’ formula is inescapably controversial. They prioritize the welfare of their students over those of their employees, which means paying teachers based on effectiveness rather than how long they’ve been on the job — and being able to fire the worst ones. …the traditional practice of granting teachers near-total job security, without any differentiation based on performance, is a disaster for children.

Sadly, many folks on the left have decided that union bosses matter more than children.

They’re even willing to condemn minority children to substandard education to keep the unions happy.

…the second outcome of the charter-school breakthrough has been a bitter backlash within the Democratic Party. The political standing of the idea has moved in the opposite direction of the data, as two powerful forces — unions and progressive activists — have come to regard charter schools as a plutocratic assault on public education and an ideological betrayal. …as Biden turns from campaigning to governing, whether he will follow through on his threats to rein them in — or heed the data and permit charter schools to flourish — is perhaps the most unsettled policy mystery of his emerging administration. …or many education specialists, the left’s near abandonment of charter schools has been a bleak spectacle of unlearning — the equivalent of Lincoln promising to rip out municipal water systems or Eisenhower pledging to ban the polio vaccine. …Today, teachers unions have adopted a militant defense of the tenure prerogatives of their least effective members, equating that stance with a defense of the teaching profession as a whole. They have effectively mobilized progressives (and resurgent socialist activists) to their cause, which they identify as a defense of “public education”.

The actions of white leftists is particularly disgusting.

Polls show that the backlash against charters has been mainly confined to white liberals, while Black and Latino Democrats — whose children are disproportionately enrolled in those schools — remain supportive.

Though there are exceptions, to be sure. Not just Chait, but even the editors at the Washington Post.

But I fear too many Democrats have made a deal with the devil.

Teacher unions bring money and votes to the table. Meanwhile, many Democrats take for granted the votes of minorities. Given these real-world considerations, it makes sense (from a self-interest perspective) to side with the union bosses.

But from a humanitarian perspective, that’s an awful choice.

For what it’s worth, I have zero hope that Biden will be sympathetic to genuine school choice. But there’s a chance he could follow Obama and be somewhat open to charter schools.

And if that happens because of the coronavirus, that will indeed be a silver lining.

P.S. School choice doesn’t automatically mean every child will be an educational success, but evidence from SwedenChileCanada, and the Netherlands shows superior results when competition replaces government education monopolies.

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