The School Choice Landscape Has Changed

In a recent episode of the 10 Blocks podcast, hosted by City Journal, Mene Ukueberuwa and Brian C. Anderson delve into the growing trend of school choice programs across the United States. These programs, which include school vouchers and education savings accounts, have been gaining traction, particularly in the last few years.

Ukueberuwa explains that the political will for such programs has been building, and since 2022, several states have passed universal school choice programs. These programs allow all students in the state to potentially pursue a private education outside of the traditional public school system. This is a significant shift in the education landscape.

The demand for these programs has been incredibly high, driven by a combination of factors. Public school enrollment was already decreasing from 2020 to 2022, largely due to school closures during the pandemic. Parents were looking for alternatives to traditional public schools, which were perceived as underperforming and slow to reopen. 

Another reason for the shift is because the pandemic exposed parents to the teaching methods and curricula used in public schools. Many parents were dissatisfied with what they perceived as radical pedagogies (gender ideology) and a lack of seriousness and expertise among teachers. This dissatisfaction, coupled with a desire to align their children’s education with their values, has driven many parents towards private schools, particularly those with a religious mission.

The way these programs work is by attaching a portion of the per-pupil public funding to the child. If parents decide to send their child to a private school, that money is subtracted from the funding that would go to the student’s public school and follows them to their new school of choice.

Ukueberuwa highlights Florida as one of the first states to make vouchers available to a wide proportion of students. Today, about 13% of all students in Florida are enrolled in private schools, an increase of about 30% from five to ten years ago. This growth can be attributed to the availability of approximately $8,700 per student for private school tuition.

The podcast also discusses the impact of these programs on traditional public schools. While some fear that the voucher programs could lead to declining funding for public schools, Ukueberuwa explains that states have tried to compensate by increasing teacher pay and substituting additional state funding for certain programs at these schools.

While school choice has become a popular cause among Republican candidates, conservatives are wary of expanding the role of the federal government in education. They fear that federal funding for private schools would come with strings attached, potentially limiting the freedom and flexibility that make school choice programs appealing in the first place. So they would prefer to keep it a local issue.

Even though there will be difficulties, in some states the educational landscape is changing for the better. Parents, through their legislators, are taking back control.

Check out the podcast for more information.