Saturday ends the eighth National School Choice Week, an annual celebration of educational freedom that’s grown from 150 events in 2011 to a grassroots phenomenon with more than 32,000 events in 2018.
Letting parents find the best schools for their children is a worthwhile concept in and of itself, but recent studies make the 2018 edition of National School Choice Week especially worth celebrating.
Research published in Education Next on Tuesday showed that the mere presence of charter schools in New York City produced higher achievement among students in district public schools close by, within a half-mile distance. The more charter schools within a mile radius, the higher the gains in math. The presence of charter schools was particularly beneficial to poor students and students with special needs in district schools.
New research from the Cato Institute on Monday also showed that as the portion of students enrolled in private schools rose, a country’s scores on the Programme for International Student Assessment rose too. As the study’s author, Corey DeAngelis, wrote in a Washington Examiner op-ed, “This report, alongside the existing robust scientific evidence of improved short- and long-term outcomes for students and societies, further indicates that decision-makers ought to increase access to private school choice around the world.”
Both studies demonstrate the truth of what school choice proponents have been saying for years. When you give parents a choice and schools compete, the rising tide lifts all boats.
Across the country, politicians are getting in on the National School Choice Week action, but it’s largely a partisan affair.
As of Monday, 31 governors, including two Democrats, issued proclamations recognizing School Choice Week. While former President Barack Obama issued proclamations recognizing National Charter Schools Week, President Trump is the first one to recognize the value of all types of school choice by issuing a National School Choice Week proclamation. In the Senate, a resolution recognizing National School Choice Week was sponsored by 24 Republicans, plus Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., by contrast did not join in, even though he co-sponsored the 2016 edition of the resolution. School choice is anathema to the teachers' unions and so presumably isn’t part of Booker's #Resistance and 2020 presidential plans.
Democratic leaders aren’t headlining many school choice celebrations, but their constituents probably wish they were.
In the 2017 Education Next Poll, 54 percent of Democrats supported a tax credit for “individual and corporate donations that pay for [voucher-like] scholarships to help low-income parents send their children to private schools.” Even using the same wording, when Democrats find out Trump supports the idea, 47 percent support the idea while 29 percent oppose.
Tax credits aside, a plurality of Democrats, 44 percent, support giving “low-income families with children in public schools a wider choice, by allowing them to enroll their children in private schools instead, with government helping to pay the tuition.”
An April 2017 Gallup poll found that more Democrats agreed than disagreed with Trump’s proposal to “provide federal funding for school-choice programs that allow students to attend any private or public school.”
While it’s not their highest priority, pro-school choice Democrats should make their support known. Write your state and local representatives. Call them out on social media. Ask them tough questions about school choice when you go to town hall meetings. Tell them you’d vote for a pro-school choice Democrat in a primary or that you might stay home for the general election.
The moral case for school choice is obvious, and the empirical data to support it is accumulating every day. It’s time for rank-and-file Democrats to make sure the political case is growing too.