Has School Choice Been All It Set Out to Be?

Source: Alan Greenblatt, Governing, May 2016

School choice is having its glass-half-full moment. On the one hand, the various choice options — vouchers, charter schools, home schooling, tuition scholarship programs, open enrollment within districts — have grown enormously over the past decade. Once choice is available, there’s no denying its popularity. Waiting lists for charter schools are common. … On the other hand, proponents of choice say that the better they do in terms of improved test scores, high enrollment and reducing long waiting lists, the more pushback they encounter. People who run and support charter schools contend that traditional school districts and teachers unions use every tactic at their disposal, from political and legal battles to simply hogging school buildings and buses, as part of the ongoing effort to beat them down. … As to measuring the record of accomplishment, it’s not a simple matter. Choice supporters and opponents continually accuse the other side of cherry-picking numbers that overstate the benefits or drawbacks of their own approach. It’s easy to find a study showing that vouchers, for instance, have no effect on test scores, or that kids in voucher programs end up doing worse in reading or math. You can also find a study that demonstrates the exact opposite. … In response to complaints that people have already lost faith, public school supporters respond that charters and other choice options are being pushed by big-money foundations, as well as corporations out to make money by siphoning off per-pupil spending. Programs such as ESAs are seen as giveaways to parents who would be sending their kids to private schools anyway. Private schools and charters can “cream” off their choice of applicants, while old-fashioned neighborhood schools — which have to keep their doors open to all comers — are left to deal with a population of less-motivated parents and often struggling students. …

Related:

State money helping wealthier Arizona kids go to private schools
Source: Rob O’Dell and Yvonne Wingett Sanchez, The Republic, February 24, 2016

Two years after state lawmakers granted children from poor-performing schools the right to attend private schools at taxpayer expense, most children using the program are leaving high-performing public schools in wealthy districts, an analysis by The Arizona Republic has found. … Lawmakers are now considering allowing all public-school students to use ESAs by 2020. The Senate voted 17-13 Monday to expand the program to all public-school students. The House of Representatives was scheduled to debate on the bill Wednesday morning but held it, a sign that it might not have the votes needed to advance.

Divisive Arizona school plan advances in Legislature / Bills divert more funds from public to private schools
Source: Alia Beard Rau and Karen Schmidt, The Republic, March 11, 2014

The Arizona Legislature will soon decide whether to dramatically expand the state’s nation-leading efforts to give parents control over where to spend their child’s taxpayer-generated education funds. The state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account program was, at the start of this school year, scheduled to disperse $10.2 million to 761 students. If expanded as proposed, the 3-year-old program could within the next five years apply to more than 28,000 students and strip more than $374 million a year from public and charter schools, based on the current average cost….

Court backs Arizona on use of taxpayer-funded ‘scholarships’ to send kids to private schools
Source: Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services, October 1, 2013

State lawmakers are free to give parents what amounts to a voucher of public funds to educate their children at any private or parochial school they want, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled today. In a unanimous ruling, the judges rejected arguments by the Arizona Education and others that providing funds that wind up in the hands of religious schools violates a state constitutional provision barring public funds from being used for religious worship or instruction. Judge Jon Thompson, writing for the court, said the fact that it is the parents who decide the use of the funds, designated as “empowerment scholarship accounts,” makes who ultimately gets the dollars irrelevant.