School Choice — Does It Actually Help Kids?

Release Date
January 26, 2017



Do school choice programs like vouchers hurt the kids left behind in public schools? Survey says … nope!

    1. EdChoice (website): Check out this website recommended by Erica Smith to find research and resources on school choice.
    2. 5 types of school choice: Which has the least government involvement? (blog post): Kevin Currie Knight explains different ways of enacting school choice and their pros and cons 
    3. Getting Politics Out of Education (on demand program): Wondering what the role of government in education should be? Check out this program to learn more! 
Evan Swarztrauber: How do you judge those competing values of “Yes school choice is good but so is Federalism. Do we want the federal government meddling in state affairs?” I mean that’s a dilemma from a free market perspective because you’ve got different competing values.
Erica Smith: A lot of people are making that argument. There are ways though for the federal government to get involved with school choice that I don’t think would raise the same concerns. For instance, if they passed a tax credit just to help parents who are paying for these educational expenses, like private school tuition, and you can then get a tax credit with the federal government, I think that would be very minimal involvement on behalf of the federal government.
Evan Swarztrauber: Right, because that’s federal tax money, not necessarily state money.
Erica Smith: Right. That would still really help families. I think everybody in the school choice movement is just going to have to look at this closely and discuss it among themselves and analyze it. We’ll see what happens.
Evan Swarztrauber: Is there a research element? We often talk about how free market people don’t want the regulatory state doing so much regulating, but there are other functions that these agencies play, which sometimes are not seen in a hyper regulatory environment, just expertise. You have people working in the Department of Education. Could they do research to figure out which programs are working, which ones aren’t, which states are leaders, which ones aren’t, and make recommendations, put out reports? I mean is that something that a proactive Department of Education could do that is not regulating, that is not stepping on states rights, just putting information out there so that people can glean what they want?
Erica Smith: Maybe. I would have to think about that. There are lot of people in the movement who are already providing very good research. I would have to look more closely to see if there’s a need for that. Certainly there’s a lot of options that we might see happen.
Evan Swarztrauber: What does the research show? That’s obviously a big consideration if you’re skeptical of school choice. You want to say, “Well I’m not opposed necessarily to my tax money, supporting people, but I want to know that it’s working and I want to know that they’re getting a good deal and that they wouldn’t have been better off in the public school.” Do we know whether private school choice is helping people, especially those most disadvantaged among us?
Erica Smith: We do know. We do know. There have been about, I think, 100 studies of school choice programs. EdChoice, formerly the Friedman Foundation, really does a wonderful job putting those studies together. I encourage you, the viewers, to look at their website. These studies show overwhelmingly that school choice is helping the students that are participating in it, and also actually helping students who stay in the public schools. We see over and over again that once a school choice program is introduced in a state the public schools actually get better, presumably because of the competitive effect. School choice overall is a very good thing for this country.