The virtue of school choice

January 28, 2016 | By CALEB TROTTER

For National School Choice Week, it’s important to remember why choice is so valuable today.

Consider the following hypothetical: Suppose you have school-age children, and your local public school is failing. Unfortunately, you cannot afford to pay for the local private school, so you must either send your kids to the failing public school, home school, or move to a different school district. Each of these three choices would bring hardships for your family.

Now, imagine three community leaders offer different solutions. Leader 1 seeks to increase spending on the failing public school system. Leader 2 advocates for vouchers or tax credits. Leader 3 wants to form a new charter school.

What are the likely ramifications of each option? Seeking additional resources for the public school is a long-term plan with no guarantee of success. In fact, there’s every reason to suspect that there is very little hope that increased funding will make any difference at all. But even if there is a chance that increased funding will improve the failing public school, it is a long-term solution. Older children may never reap the benefits, and younger children will have to suffer for years before seeing the benefits of increased funding.

Vouchers and tax credits, however, offer immediate payoffs to the families of kids saddled with a failing public school. With a voucher, parents can immediately apply it toward tuition at the private school that was previously unaffordable. Similarly, tax credit programs result in scholarships that can be used for private school tuition immediately. Both systems result in an immediate benefit for children, and give poorer families hope of a quality education.

The third option is forming a new charter school. Charter schools are secular public schools that are not saddled by the myriad regulations that hamper traditional public schools. Like vouchers and tax credits, charter schools offer immediate benefits to parents with children stuck at a failing school. Charter schools have demonstrated success after success in providing new and diverse education options for families where few existed previously. Indeed, for these reasons the California Legislature created a method for parents to convert a failing public school into a charter school.

The debate over school choice all boils down to whether children can afford to wait for the public school to improve. Parents shouldn’t have to wait years for their local school to improve, especially since there is no guarantee that increased funding will improve the failing school. Often the school’s problems are more fundamental, and increased funding exacerbates a bad situation. Whatever arguments politicians put forward for improving the failing public schools in the long-term, that doesn’t address the real and important interests of parents today. These parents have children that need a quality education now, and expanding school choice is the only answer.

Children cannot afford to wait for public school administrators to find a one-size-fits-all solution. School choice gives a way out and a way up right now.