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What is school choice?


Parental authority goes as far back in history as we care to imagine, but in terms of parental authority over school choice it was codified in the 1926 decision of Pierce v. Society of Sisters, in which the Governor of Oregon, Walter Pierce, lost his battle for a statute requiring children to attend only state-run schools. Some legal scholars even assert that parental choice is a broadly Constitutional affair, especially if protected under the 10th Amendment (regarding the powers of the state/people in absence of federal precedents), or even the 1st Amendment (regarding free speech/assembly).

School choice literally means the ability for parents to choose the best fit for their children on a case-by-case basis without having the traditional barriers of public school zoning and private school tuition costs. Modern choice concepts go all the way back to Milton Friedman (the 1976 Nobel Prize winning economist), who advocated a voucher system that he originally created in the 1950s. He wrote continuously throughout the mid-to-late 20th Century on the importance of breaking the education monopoly. Finally, his much-publicized 1995 article on pg. C7 of the Washington Post identified severe defects in the American educational system, thereby earning him notoriety on the issue of school choice. That was 4 years after the first charter school law had been passed in Minnesota, which just goes to show that reformists were already trying to innovate the public education system before most of us knew how dire the situation was to become.

In general, there are two distinct types of school choice available to American parents: Public and Private. These are discussed at length on the “What is School Choice” page of our website.

Public school choice is any publicly-funded vehicle that allows students to transcend conventional geographic boundaries, especially relating to school zoning/catchment areas. Public school choice includes things like magnet programs and exchange programs for special-case students within the District’s network of schools, Montessori schools that employ non-traditional classroom experiences, and charter schools that operate under completely independent governing boards (i.e. they are not managed by the local District).

Private school choice is any publicly-funded vehicle that allows students to transcend conventional financial boundaries, especially relating to private school tuition costs. Private school choice includes things like public vouchers given directly to parents, tax credits for parents able to pay the private school tuition up-front, and educational savings accounts that parents can pull from whenever they need for whatever they need (much like an HSA).