The typical objection to educational freedom rests on the supposed negative effect of school choice on public schools. But the weight of the evidence shows that the introduction of school voucher programs has a positive effect on public students’ test scores and other metrics of student wellbeing. A recent study supports this conclusion and demonstrates the benefits that accrue to all students when voucher programs are scaled up and have time to grow.
A paper recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) found that the massive scale‐up of a Florida school choice program resulted in higher test scores and lower absenteeism and suspension rates for public school students. The study looked at the decade when student participation in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program grew from less than one percent to nearly four percent of the state’s students. NBER scholars used data sets to assess educational metrics for students attending public schools who saw increased exposure to private choice during that time period.
The positive results were particularly pronounced for lower‐income students, but more affluent students saw benefits too. In the view of the authors, the increase in competitive pressure from increased voucher use is the probable explanation for this across‐the‐board improvement.
Those opposed to educational freedom fear it will drain resources and funding from public schools, causing students who choose to remain in the public school system to fall behind. But the NBER paper suggests just the opposite. The authors believe that because class sizes in public schools shrink, teachers are better able to provide individualized lessons. This personalized attention could be one factor explaining why public school students saw an increase in test scores.
This study only reaffirms what school choice advocates have been saying for years: school choice is the rising tide that lifts all boats. The purpose of expanding school choice programs is not to eliminate public schools, but rather to ensure that all students can receive the individualized education that works best for their individual needs.
For some, their local public school does just that. In the wake of COVID-19, however, it has become increasingly obvious that educational opportunities must be as diverse as the needs of students. Families that can afford private schools have been able to send their kids safely back to smaller classroom settings. Meanwhile, overcrowded public schools have been forced to stay entirely virtual.
Expanding school choice programs in the states will allow students to thrive by ensuring families can secure the method of education that works best for them. And those that decide the best option is to remain in a public school will thrive as well.