Studies point to school choice benefits

Research shows school choice is a no-brainer.

by Derek Olson

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly asked President Barack Obama earlier this year why he opposes school vouchers.

“Every study that’s been done on school vouchers, Bill, says that it has a limited impact, if any,” Obama said.

The president is a master of rhetoric, but he isn’t above using full-blown distortions of the truth to maintain his composure. Obama has an uncanny ability to bend the truth further than imaginable without definitively breaking it — in most cases.

He went on to tell O’Reilly, “It has been tried … it didn’t actually make that much of a difference.”

The truth gave way and snapped.

School vouchers are part of the school choice agenda, a burgeoning grassroots movement in education policy to implement free market principles in the education system. The brainchild of Milton Friedman, school choice has had advocates for decades, but it wasn’t until 1989 that Wisconsin lawmakers passed the nation’s first voucher program. Voucher programs enable students to take part or all of the money funding their public school education and apply it to private school tuition.

These programs are often received with staunch opposition claiming that vouchers harm public schools by draining their resources. Decades ago, before any data existed, that might have been a legitimate concern. Today, we can weigh it against the evidence.

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice published a survey last year of the empirical evidence on school choice, and the results are astounding. The report includes research from Harvard University, the U.S. Department of Education, the Brookings Institution and a Federal Reserve Bank. The survey uses research from five topics: academic outcomes of choice participants, academic outcomes of public schools, fiscal impact on taxpayers, racial segregation in schools, and civic values and practices.

All but one out of 12 studies found that the academic outcomes of choice participants improved. All but one out of 23 studies found that academic outcomes in public schools improved. Six out of six studies found that school choice saves money for taxpayers. Seven out of eight studies found that school choice desegregates schools. Five out of seven studies found that school choice promotes civic values such as respect for rights of others.

The remaining studies found no visible impact. No empirical study found a negative impact on any of those topics — not a single study. Furthermore, a recent joint study from Harvard University and the Brookings Institution found that the school choice program in Dayton, Ohio, increased college enrollment among black students by 24 percent. School choice costs taxpayers less money, improves educational outcomes for participants and public school students alike, desegregates schools, assists minorities and promotes civic values. It’s a win-win-win-win-win.

After confronting the facts, it’s difficult to fathom why anyone opposes school choice. It’s quite possibly the clearest way to improve minorities’ access to the great equalizer, yet too many on the left continue to deny them an obvious step toward a better education. What emerges from the left-wing opposition is not the facade of compassion that they hide behind; it’s an anti-freedom ideology with a stubborn refusal to examine the facts.

School choice might not be the miracle, the Godot or the Superman we’ve been waiting for, but evidence has shattered the opposition’s claims. It is indeed effective, and there’s no reason not to support school choice.