The problem is that where children attend school, for the most part, is dictated by where they live. Parents unhappy with their local public school can either opt out of the public school system and pay private school tuition, or can move residences. During the last decade, housing costs have climbed overall, but parents have been particularly affected as families bid up home prices in the few areas that offer high quality public schools. Warren and Tyagi’s recent report reiterates the important role housing plays in family finances. Housing remains a family’s biggest expense and the costs of owning and maintaining a home have increased by 23 percent (or more than $300 a month) during the past 5 years.
What can policymakers do to address this problem? In The Two Income Trap, Warren and Tyagi offer policymaker clear advise: “Any policy that loosens the ironclad relationship between location-location-location and school-school-school would eliminate the need for parents to pay an inflated price for a home just because in happens to lie within the boundaries of a desirable school district. A well-designed voucher program would fit the bill neatly.” Policymakers across the country have been taking this advice. There are a growing number of programs that give parents new ways to select schools for their children. According to the Heritage Foundation (http://www.heritage.org/Research/Education/upload/bg_1970.pdf), 40 states and the District of Columbia have charter schools, which are alternative public schools that parents can select for their children, and thirteen states now have voucher programs or education tax credit programs that are designed to help parents afford private schools. In all, more than a million children are attending charter or private schools of choice this school year.
School choice programs have been shown to improve student outcomes and increase parental satisfaction with their children’s schooling. The fact that these programs may also help alleviate the middle class financial crunch is just another reason for policymakers to embrace them.
The Democrats are right: too many middle class families struggle to make ends meet. School choice is part of the solution to this problem. It’s an agenda item that deserves to be on the top of both parties’ platforms.