CV NEWS FEED // A growing number of parents are electing to use school choice programs in many of the states that have instituted them.
According to the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, a handful of states have seen a significant increase in the use of education vouchers or education savings accounts (ESAs) in the past year. Education vouchers, ESAs, and opportunity scholarships give parents back a portion of their education tax money to use toward their children’s education.
These programs can help families choose between a wide range of alternatives to government-run public schools, including Catholic schools, other private schools, and homeschooling.
“Many states have recently created or expanded school-choice programs, but are parents taking up the opportunity?” the Journal wrote Sunday. “It’s early days, but data from several states should encourage lawmakers that robust offerings are in demand.”
The states the newspaper said showed positive improvements in school choice enrollment were Indiana (with more than 53,000 students for the 2022-23 school year compared to 44,376 in 2021-22), Florida (268,221 students this year compared to 183,925 last year), Arizona (47,667 compared to 5,103), West Virginia (6,323 compared to 3,600), Iowa (29,025 students for a new program), and Arkansas (almost 5,000 students for a new program).
Both Arizona and Florida currently have universal ESA programs. West Virginia’s one-year-old program is “open to any student already in public school.”
However, the editorial board warned that “none of this should prompt states to rest on their laurels.” Pointing out that “a law does little good if it isn’t implemented well,” the Journal cited a June report by the Manhattan Institute, a pro-school choice think tank. In it, authors
Nicole Stelle Garnett and Michael Q. McShane highlighted some of their concerns surrounding the implementation of ESAs:
We fear a program in which 100,000 families want to participate but cannot log in to the payment platform, or cannot track their expenditures, or cannot promptly pay the educational providers helping their children. Those families would form a formidable political bloc of unhappy people and an existential risk for an ESA program.
However, Garnett and McShane noted that this “situation is also entirely avoidable,” with sound policy.
The Journal added that many parents are still “unaware of the offerings in their states.” Garnett and McShane agreed:
“If you build it, they will come” may be a memorable movie quotation, but it is a poor substitute for parental-choice policy planning. Parents are not only busy people, but they often are unaware of the publicly funded educational options available to their children. Particularly when eligibility calculations are complicated and programs are limited, it is very easy for parents to think that attempting to enroll is not worth the effort.
Despite these concerns, the Journal piece ended on an encouraging note for supporters of educational freedom:
States that are generous with ESAs are encouraging a variety of options to expand or open, whether faith-based, classical, Montessori or something new, and with families choosing what works best for them. That’s what a future of school choice looks like.
Prominent school choice activists applauded the article. Corey DeAngelis, PhD, who is a board member and fellow at multiple think tanks, tweeted a screenshot of the Journal’s headline adding the words, “the dam is breaking.”