Parental choice

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Parental Choice in American Education

Definitions

The terms "school choice" and "parental choice" describe K-12 education reforms that allow parents increased influence over which school their child attends using public funding, typically de-linking residential location and school boundaries. The reforms contrast with a well-established system of "neighborhood schools" where public school attendance is determined by residential location. That is, one chooses a school by moving into the local catchment area.

The scope of school choice can extend to public schools outside a fixed neighborhood boundary. This encompasses public school choice and magnet schools programs. Such programs have been used extensively in densely settled areas like New York City, Cambridge, MA, Chicago, IL, and Minneapolis, MN where most residents may have several public schools within commuting distance.

Parental school choice has been extended to new kinds of publicly funded schools that are subject to fewer regulations than traditional public schools. These are called charter schools. Charter school policies vary considerably from state to state. Some states like Arizona are known for very permissive charter schools. Others like Massachusetts are known for charter schools that are much more similar to their traditional public school counterparts. Other states that have long had charter schools include Minnesota, California, the District of Columbia, and Michigan.

Finally, and most controversially, parental choice can be extended to allow public funding to follow children to private schools. Such reforms are usually called school vouchers programs because the grant or scholarship follows the student and acts as a voucher to be redeemed for public funds at the receiving school. Famous public school voucher programs are those that have been implemented in Milwaukee, WI and Cleveland, OH. Many private sources have tried to fund "scholarship programs" to demonstrate the effectiveness of vouchers so they may be eventually publicly funded. Most recently, Congress passed a law authorizing a school voucher demonstration for the District of Columbia. (Congress has exclusive legislative authority over the District of Columbia -- see District of Columbia disenfrachisement).

One way to provide parents with the chance to use public funds to attend private schools is to provide private school tuition tax credits. Tax credits have been used in Minnesota, for example, to offset private school tuition. They operate in the same way as direct school vouchers.

A related reform is privatization of public school services, notably contracting out for school management.

History

"School choice" was used in the early days of school desegregation as a way to allow white parents in the South to re-segregate by choosing schools that were able to find ways to exclude African Americans by legal means.

Its modern resurgence as an approach to education policy is associated mostly with the writings of Milton Friedman.

Debate over school choice

The goal of vouchers and other school choice proposals is to make schools more accountable and more consumer-oriented than the Common School notion of public education. Proponents of school choice criticize the public school system for being an unresponsive monopoly. They criticize the level of government regulation and labor union influence in public schools. Supporters of school choice also stress that it is poor and minority students who suffer most from failing schools. Voucher advocates believe that is the parents of these poor students who are in the most dire need of options to escape substandard schools.

Opponents of vouchers, which includes many progressives and educators, recognize the need to improve primary education, but believe that most school-choice programs do more harm than good. Anti-Voucher groups criticize school-choice programs for draining scarce resources away from public schools. Many opponents of vouchers believe that these programs, while possibly allowing a small percentage of children to flee poor schools, will leave the remaining majority of students with even fewer resources. Additionally, many educators are worried that vouchers will lead to a two-tier education system where brighter and/or more affluent students will be "creamed" by aggressive schools, while poorer students and those with disabilities will be left with few good options. Finally, some who oppose vouchers believe that voucher proponents have ulterior motives and seek to turn education from a public responsibility into a private, profit-making industry.

Related

The GI Bill provided "school vouchers" for higher education, instituted for returning veterans after World War II to help pay for college. A highly popular program, it was reformed several times and eventually turned into a recruiting tool for the military services. Became the Montgomery GI Bill. See also Veterans Education Assistance Program (VEAP), the Army College Fund (ACF), and the Navy College Fund (NCF).

 However, the GI Bill education payments are not equivalent to current-day school vouchers.   What former mltiary received under the GI Bill in the past and receive now under the Montgomery GI Bill can be viewed as a form of deferred compensation for (military) services already rendered.  Current day school vouchers when paid for from tax revenues represents a transfer of tax revenues for the general public good of public schools open to all to an individual good of those receiving the voucher(s).
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