Die-hard education advocates have spent decades standing up for kids who don't have access to a quality education in their own community. We've argued that every child should have the opportunity to attend a school that works best for them. We have been steadfast in our belief that children in low-income communities excel when their parents are able to choose a school for their child, rather than be assigned to one by zip code The latest study on school choice proves us right.
A comprehensive, long-term study conducted by Dr. Matt Chingos of the Urban Institute found that low-income students who attended private schools using Florida's tax credit scholarship had increased college enrollment and graduation rates compared their public school peers. Students who participated in Florida's program at some point during their education had about 15 percent higher college enrollment rates than public school students. And, what's even more encouraging, the longer students participated in the program, the more likely they were to enroll in college—with up to 43 percent higher college enrollment among students who spend four or more years in the program.
Opponents of school choice, who are committed to maintaining the status quo in education, like to point to short-term studies that show only small improvements in test scores of students who use school choice programs to attend private or charter schools.
Although there are many studies that show that scores do improve over time, test scores are not a definitive indicator of future success. College is.
The Urban Institute study is just the latest among mounting evidence that school choice increases access to higher education. Similar research also conducted by Dr. Chingos and Paul Peterson of Harvard reported that African American students in New York City enrolled in college at significantly higher rates if they had access to school choice.
Two studies of Milwaukee's long-running choice program, including one by Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions, found that school choice voucher students graduated from high school, enrolled in a four-year college and persisted into their crucial second year of college at significantly higher rates than their public school counterparts.
While not all school choice programs have been around long enough to provide data on the long-term success of students, all of these initial studies point to fact that we can increase higher education rates by increasing school choice.
According to the latest data compiled by the Economic Policy Institute, college graduates, on average, earned 56 percent more than high school grads in 2015. With this income disparity at an all-time high, giving students greater access to higher education is vital to breaking the cycle of poverty that exists in too many communities.
As education advocates, our common goal should be ensuring that students continue their education as long as possible, graduate from high school, and achieve a credential or college degree to increase their chances of future success. Not only does a college degree or post high school credential help move people from poverty to prosperity, but it also benefits our society as our whole to have an educated and productive population.
This study, and the others that have come before it, clearly prove that where children attend school can have a lifelong impact. Not all of us have the ability to choose a neighborhood based on the quality of the local school or the resources to pay for a private school that best suits our children, yet all parents deserve the ability to choose an education that gives their child the best chance to succeed in life.
Kevin P. Chavous is a founding board member for the American Federation for Children, a former member of the Council of the District of Columbia and former chair of the Democrats for Education Reform and of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.
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