School Choice: Expensive, Ineffective, Damaging, With Resource Restrictions And Parent Dissatisfaction

Rodger Williams
November 16, 2023

School Choice is a strategy to use government money to move students from public schools to private education options. Taxpayer funding is foundational for this process.

Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) are currently the most prominent form of School Choice. This is a marketing term. There are no parent savings involved. The money is all from the government.


There are School Choice problems becoming apparent as flows of government money enter the private school system.

School Choice increases the taxpayer education burden in most cases

School Choice does not bring savings for taxpayers, as some of it's advocates claim. This is because paying tuition for students who were previously paying their own way in private schools is expensive. These new costs outweigh any savings from those students who leave public schools.

For instance, a program disbursing to School Choice students 80% of what public school costs per student increases taxpayer costs by 60%. See this easy-to-understand explanation.

The 60% increase in costs is because taxpayers have taken on the responsibility to educate a whole new segment of the state's students: Those students that have demonstrated they are capable of paying their own way for private school.

School Choice is failing to achieve it's purpose

School Choice is designed to move students from public schools that are not meeting the needs of students and families to private schools and other private education options. That is the promise of School Choice.

It is largely failing.

[begin quote]
73% of parents nationally support school choice programs. That is because they have been led to believe School Choice will enable the children of parents just like them to escape from bad public schools.

They would be shocked to find out that less than 5% of public school children are actually able to make the move to a better education using ESAs.
[end quote]

We do not know what factors are keeping so many public school students in their local schools. But they are staying put in spite of the availability of School Choice money.

School Choice will cause damage to students and families it is supposed to help

School Choice money is now flowing into private schools. This is new money for the schools. Their students could afford the previous tuition without the School Choice money. So schools are raising their tuition prices, knowing that their families can afford it with the addition of the School Choice money.

This will probably price many students out of the private school market.

[begin quote]
Some students will be able to come out of public schools into private schools because the government money allows them to do so.

These students will eventually be forced back into the public schools because of rising private school tuition.

The School Choice money available will be outpaced by the tuition increases. And these families will no longer be able to afford tuition costs.
[end quote]

School Choice restricts what education resources are funded

Government-approved schools, tutors and curriculum are the only ones included in School Choice programs. Any other education resources must be paid for out-of-pocket by the student's family.

[begin quote]
What parameters will be used to choose vendors? Will we allow the well-known local tutor to be a vendor even if they don't have a license or will we limit which vendors parents can choose? ...

[H]ow do we make sure that the government doesn't get in the way of what parents want and what expenses are covered? Some parents may ask for chicken coops to be covered so they can teach their children about animal husbandry, but these expenses might not be approved. Yet, public schools have chicken coops all the time. They have terrariums and fish tanks, and no one ever questions the educational value of them.
[end quote]

Many parents are dissatisfied with what they have gotten with School Choice

Restricted education resources are one source of parent dissatisfaction.

[begin quote]
What we are seeing is a lot of tumult between what parents want and what expenses are covered. The biggest worry is that parents will not be happy with a program that was designed to make their lives easier and better.
[end quote]

Another source of parent dissatisfaction is that many cannot find a nearby participating private school that is suitable for their student. And private schools have their own admission criteria and can reject students, to the frustration of parents.


There are two underlying causes for these problems with School Choice.

School Choice advocates have failed to see the logical consequences of School Choice

The sections above on "School Choice increases the taxpayer education burden in most cases" and "School Choice will cause damage to students and families it is supposed to help" illustrate this.

Here is a consequence School Choice advocates continue to ignore even as I write this.

[begin quote]
Never before have private schools in America faced the prospect of receiving such massive income from the government. Never before have private schools been able to depend on that government money in their budgets. Never before have private schools publicly declared they would be raising their tuition because of available government money.

The new government money inflow has substantially changed the underlying forces on private schools.
[end quote]

The benefits of School Choice have been overpromised

The portrayal of School Choice by its advocates has consistently been one of a best-case scenario.

One commentator's observations apply to the broader issue of overpromising School Choice as well as to his focus on individual private schools.

[begin quote]
There is a recurring refrain from school choice opponents that families in voucher, tax credit, or ESA programs will be bamboozled by the marketing of subpar schools and will choose worse schools as a result. It's the magical power of marketing that will drive school choices, not the actual quality of the schools themselves, the argument goes....

The reality that marketing only goes so far is one worth keeping in mind when people talk about school choice, why people choose, and what they are choosing. I don't doubt that at the margins some people are swayed by slick advertising, but that will not work as a lasting enrollment strategy....

Pride cometh before the fall. Marketing apparently does as well. But if the product is bad, the fall is all but determined, massive marketing spend or not.
[end quote]