How can we empower kids to learn where they learn best? Simple: empower parents to make choices about their child’s education. Here, you can read in-depth research that shows how parental choice makes sense for families and communities, and what you need to know to educate others, too.
Every child is unique. Shouldn’t their education be?
We believe that parents know what’s best for their children, and that every child is different. Right now, however, the education system treats children functionally the same.
In Texas, most parents do not have a choice in where to send their children to school. Kids are not allowed to learn where they learn best – instead, parents must make the gut-wrenching choice to keep their child in public schools that may not reflect what they know to be best for their child, or allocating the time and resources to send their children to private schools or to homeschool them.
Should parents be able to send their children to a school of their choosing? Should they be able to make value judgments about the quality of their child’s education? Perhaps the better question is: why shouldn’t they?
All Texas parents are concerned about education. They’re concerned about making sure that their children are in the best schools possible, that they’re learning what they should be learning, and that they’re learning good life skills. In fact, many parents choose where to live on the basis of where schools appear to be best – home websites prominently feature reports and data about school district quality. Parents with the means and flexibility to do so often move into the “best” school districts. Realtors prominently feature area schools if they’re highly rated.
School districts, too, participate in this. They put up billboards on highways, boast about their performance and amenities, and are in an ever-spiraling race to build the biggest and the best facilities. In its August 2021 annual report, the Texas Bond Review Board states that Texas school districts have $97.79 billion in debt – and the number keeps growing.
Of course, the lowest-income families, those in rural areas, and students with disabilities are often left behind by this. Forcing families to move in order to access better schools ensures that not everyone can, and creates socioeconomic boundaries in communities with multiple school districts.
Yet even the best-performing public school districts do not escape scrutiny by parents who, in fact, have little say what their children are learning and exposed to. Since late 2021, the degree to which that parental concern has come under attack is surprising.
FBI Investigations and the Concern About Parental Protests
In September, 2021, two fathers in Round Rock, Texas were arrested in their homes by the Round Rock Independent School District police for protesting at school board meetings. Around the same time, on October 4, 2021 Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memo detailing a plan to investigate parents reported to be threatening local school board officials with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The Justice Department’s Press Release states: “The Justice Department will also create specialized training and guidance for local school boards and school administrators. This training will help school board members and other potential victims understand the type of behavior that constitutes threats, how to report threatening conduct to the appropriate law enforcement agencies, and how to capture and preserve evidence of threatening conduct to aid in the investigation and prosecution of these crimes.
The concerns about the Justice Department’s actions arose almost immediately from First Amendment advocates. It is highly unusual for a federal law enforcement agency to bypass state governments to extend down the local level in its efforts.
The federal government’s actions did not occur in a vacuum, however. They came as a result of the National School Boards Association (NSBA) writing a letter to President Joe Biden alleging that opponents of Critical Race Theory and mask mandates were an imminent threat to school board members’ safety. The letter has since been removed from the NSBA’s website, but here is a portion of what it said:
“NSBA believes immediate assistance is required to protect our students, school board members, and educators who are susceptible to acts of violence affecting interstate commerce because of threats to their districts, families, and personal safety,” the letter stated. “As our school boards continue coronavirus recovery operations within their respective districts, they are also persevering against other challenges that could impede this progress in a number of communities. Coupled with attacks against school board members and educators for approving policies for masks to protect the health and safety of students and school employees, many public school officials are also facing physical threats because of propaganda purporting the false inclusion of critical race theory within classroom instruction and curricula.”
These actions, among other issues, have caused parents to reconsider their role in their child’s education.
In 1989, Polly Williams, a Wisconsin State Representative from Milwaukee, authored and passed the United States’ first parental choice program, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. An African-American Democrat, Williams was concerned that low-income students in Milwaukee were being left behind. Williams, a mother of four, had been on welfare, and was concerned that the plight of low-income urban parents was being ignored.
She wasn’t afraid to work with Republicans across the aisle to achieve better educational outcomes for urban families. Her candor was legendary. In a 1991 60 minutes interview, she questioned the hypocrisy of many parental choice opponents whose own children went to private schools. “I kind of question these people whose children are safely in these nice schools talking about what they don’t want for poor people,” she said.
In 1991, Minnesota began allowing charter schools. Texas followed in 1995. Arizona passed the first tax credit scholarship program in 1997. In 2001, Florida became the first state to offer parents of students with disabilities the ability to send them to a school of their choice.
Then in 2004, Congress passed parental choice for Washington, D.C. students, who had been stuck in some of the worst performing schools in America. As educational outcomes from these early programs rolled in, public officials from across the political spectrum began to take notice.
While many labor unions opposed choice programs, the exceptional results assured legislators across America that if they wanted to do the best thing for kids, it was important to let them learn where they learn best.
In 2016, President Donald Trump was elected and made parental choice one of his hallmark issues. In a June 2020 speech, Trump called parental choice “the civil rights issue of all time in this country.”
It is striking that Presidents Bush and Trump, who may not agree on everything, are nevertheless on the same page about the importance of giving parents a say in their child’s education.
Similarly, that modern parental choice programs came from an African-American Democrat representing part of urban Milwaukee proves that this is not a partisan or even ideological issue – it’s about ensuring that children are allowed to learn where they learn best, so that they can make the most of their lives and have the greatest amount of opportunity.
Today, parental choice programs exist in 31 states, plus the District of Columbia.
Some of these states are run by Republicans, others by Democrats. But all are in unified agreement: parental choice just works. This is not a bipartisan issue, it’s an American one.
If the research-backed effects of parental choice had to be summarized in a single sentence, it might be:
An enormous body of research exists about parental choice, and it’s difficult to narrow down the research to “must-reads” if a parent, community leader, or concerned citizen wants to best understand the issue. Below, we have taken some of the most important issues and cited a study that goes into more detail.
The vast majority of studies show an improvement in student performance among all subjects. 11 of 17 studies in an empirical review showed positive effects, 4 showed no significant difference, and only 2 studies showed negative effects from parental choice programs.
Review of Studies on School Choice by Patrick J. Wolf, University of Arkansas
“Educational attainment – including graduation from high school and enrollment and persistence in college – may be the most consequential outcome for individual students and their surrounding communities over the long term.”
“[Milwaukee Parental Choice Program] students were significantly more likely to enroll in a four-year university (7 percentage points higher), and they lasted, on average, 20 percent longer there.”
“Students in the [Florida Tax Credit scholarship program] were more likely to go to and graduate from college than their public school peers.”
The Effects of Means-Tested Private School Choice Programs on College Enrollment and Graduation, The Urban Institute
Texans from across the political spectrum are excited about the possibility of parental choice, and for good reason – other states that have implemented these programs see broad satisfaction with them, exceptional opportunity for students and their families, and an improvement in outcomes that is nothing short of remarkable.
A July 2019 Mason-Dixon poll showed 74 percent of Texans support, and only 16 percent oppose, Education Savings Accounts.
This included 83 percent of Republicans, 74 percent of Independents, and 62 percent of Democrats! Few issues get that kind of bipartisan support, but parental choice in education does.
Considering the experience of other states, Texas families have every reason to be supportive of parental choice.
In North Carolina, 80 percent of parents participating in the state’s Education Savings Accounts and Opportunity Scholarships are satisfied with them, with less than 5 percent dissatisfied. Families’ Schooling Experiences in North Carolina, EdChoice
In Ohio, 89 percent of Educational Choice Scholarship Program parents, 79 percent of Cleveland Scholarship Program parents, 81 percent of Autism Scholarship parents, and 81 percent of Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program parents are satisfied with them, with less than 10 percent dissatisfied across the board. Families’ Schooling Experiences in Ohio, EdChoice
In Indiana, 93 percent of parents taking advantage of the state’s parental choice programs were satisfied. Why Parents Choose, EdChoice
Some existing private school and homeschool families are concerned that bringing parental choice to Texas would mean an influx of government mandates and control on existing private schools and homeschoolers.
Would choice in Texas mean additional regulations on homeschoolers and private schools?
No. Homeschoolers and private schools would not be subject to any additional regulation. Homeschoolers are not subject to state regulation in Texas, but are expected to teach the basic subjects of math, reading, spelling and grammar, and good citizenship.
All Texas private schools are already subject to basic health and safety regulations, including some you might not think about – it’s a crime to drink alcohol on a public sidewalk within 1,000 feet of a private school, for example.
Liberty for the Kids is not advocating for additional regulations on private schools and homeschoolers – the current basic health and safety regulations are sufficient, and parents are able to determine what is appropriate for their own children.
It makes sense that parental choice improves public schools. After all, in any arena, having more ideas means that the best ideas rise to the top. So it is true in education, and research of existing parental choice programs prove it.
Indiana has one of the broadest parental choice programs in America, and a study of public school students whose parents have not removed them to private schools found that there is “… no evidence that students in traditional public schools have been negatively affected by the enactment and growth of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program, as measured by their test score outcomes or probability of graduating from high school.”
The study in fact found “… consistent evidence of small positive effects for low-income children.” Overall, however, no negative impact on public schools is observed – either in Indiana or in other states, and in other research which has been done in this area.
One concern raised by some is that parental choice would somehow invite greater involvement in our education system. Is that true?
No. Parental choice in Texas would not lead to greater federal involvement in our education. If anything, it would lead to less.
While it is true that public schools do receive federal funding for various items, parental choice does not involve federal dollars at all. A parental choice program in Texas will not involve federal money at any step – and Liberty for the Kids would never support federal money being part of such a program.
Texas’ parental choice program will be funded by Texans themselves, and will almost certainly save a lot of money over the current system.