Despite the widespread appeal of educational freedom, the Obama administration has continually fought school choice. In his 2009 budget proposal, President Obama tried to cut all funding from the DC Opportunity Scholarship program and prohibit any new students from receiving scholarships. Last year, the administration filed suit against the State of Louisiana for their school choice program (but have fortunately dropped the lawsuit since). At the same time, outside opponents of school choice unsuccessfully poured millions of dollars into a campaign against the reform-minded Douglas County, Colorado school board. These attempts to protect poor-performing teachers from competition and accountability put special interests before students.
Those fighting against school choice use flawed arguments to make their case. A primary criticism is that school choice hurts public schools, which has been proven false. Of the 23 studies examining impact on public schools, 22 found that they actually improve, and one found no impact. Another charge is that school choice increases segregation. In fact, school choice makes it possible for students from low-income families, many of them minorities, to attend the same schools as children from higher-income families.
Some critics are upset that school choice initiatives can allow parents to send their children to religious institutions, citing laws that prohibit government funds form “benefiting” such organizations. However, this complaint ignores the fact that people’s tax dollars are used to send children to religiously affiliated preschools, universities, and graduate schools. There is no reason students in K-12 should not be afforded the same opportunity.
Leaders on both sides acknowledge the need for education reform. But alternatives to school choice that focus on more government spending and more bureaucratic involvement have not proven successful. President Obama calls for universal preschool, despite the fact that “Head Start,” the government-centric pre-school program for poor children, hasn’t succeeded in creating better outcomes for students. Health and Human Services concluded that it provides no discernable benefits after the third grade. Progressives also call for more funding. After adjusting for inflation, schools spend more than twice what they did in 1983, but the graduation rate has improved less than two percent. Finally, increasing numbers of educators and parents are realizing that federally-developed programs like Common Core and No Child Left Behind will not improve our education system.
America agrees with President Obama when he says that every child deserves the chance to receive a world-class education and the opportunity to be better off than his or her parents. If he is true to his word and to the American people, he will abandon failed, expensive, government-centric reforms to education and embrace the expansion of educational freedom for parents through school choice.