The Case for School Choice

Private, charter, and public school options

Adorable African American girl reading books in the school library

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When it comes to education, conservatives believe that American families should have the flexibility and the right to a variety of school options for their children. The public education system in the United States is both expensive and under-performing. Conservatives believe that the public education system as it exists today should be an option of last resort, not a first and only choice. A majority of Americans believe that the education system is broken. Liberals say that more (and more and more) money is the answer. But conservatives argue that school choice is the answer. Public support for educational options is strong, but powerful liberal special interests have effectively limited the options many families have.

School Choice Shouldn't be Just for the Wealthy

Educational options should not only exist for the well-connected and wealthy. While President Obama opposes school choice and props up the education-affiliated labor unions, he sends his own children to a school that costs $30,000 per year. Though Obama likes to portray himself as having come from nothing, he attended the elite college prep Punahou School in Hawaii, which today costs almost $20,000 per year to attend. And Michelle Obama? She attended the also-elite Whitney M. Young Magnet High school. While the school is run by the city, it is not a typical high school and it closely resembles the way a charter school would operate. The school accepts less than 5% of applicants, highlighting the need and desire for such options. Conservatives believe that every child should have the educational opportunities that the entire Obama family has enjoyed. School choice should not be limited to the 1%, and the people who oppose school choice should at least send their kids to the school they want "the regular folks" to attend.

Private and Charter Schools

School choice would allow families to choose from a number of educational options. If they are happy with the education that the government provides, and admittedly some public schools are excellent, then they can remain. The second option would be a charter school. A charter school does not charge tuition and it survives off of public funds, however, it operates independently from the public education system. Charter schools offer unique educational opportunities but they are still held accountable for success. Unlike with the public education system, a failing charter school will not remain open.

A third main option is private schooling. Private schools can range from elite prep schools to religiously-affiliated schools. Unlike with the public school system or charter schools, private schools do not run on public funds. Typically, expenses are met by charging tuition to cover part of the cost, and reliance on a pool of private donors. Currently, private schools are the least accessible to lower-income families, despite the per-pupil cost to attend typically being less than both the public school and charter school systems. Conservatives favor opening up the voucher system to these schools as well. Other educational opportunities are also supported, such as home-schooling and distance learning.

A Voucher System

Conservatives believe that a voucher system would be the most effective and efficient way to deliver school choice to millions of children. Not only would vouchers empower families to find the best fit for their children, but it saves taxpayers money as well. Currently, the per-pupil cost of public education is close to $11,000 across the nation. (And how many parents would say they believe their child gets an $11,000 per year education?) A voucher system would let parents use some of that money and apply it to a private or charter school of their choosing. Not only does the student get to attend a school that is a good educational fit, but charter and private schools are typically far less expensive, thus saving the taxpayers thousands of dollars every time a student leaves the status quo educational system in favor of a parent-chosen school.

The Obstacle: Teacher's Unions

The biggest (and perhaps only) obstacle to school choice is the powerful teacher's unions who oppose any attempts to expand educational opportunities. Their position is certainly understandable. If school choice were to be embraced by politicians, how many parents would choose the government-run option? How many parents would not shop around for the best fit for their children? School choice and a publicly-supported voucher system would inevitably lead to a mass exodus of students from the public school system, thus endangering the currently competition-free atmosphere that teachers currently enjoy.

It is also true that, on average, charter and private school teachers do not enjoy the salaries and benefits that their public counterparts do. This is a reality of operating in the real world where budgets and standards exist. But it would be unfair to say that lower salaries equal lower quality teachers. It's a valid argument that charter and private school teachers are more likely to teach for the love of teaching, rather than for money and benefits offered as a government employee.

Competition Could Improve Public Schools and Teacher Quality

It is likely true, similarly to how capitalism promotes private programs and diminishes public programs, a competitive private school system would require fewer public educators, but it would not mean a wholesale firing of public school teachers. Implementing these school choice programs would take years, and much of the reduction in the public teacher force would be handled through attrition (the retirement of current teacher's and not replacing them). But this could be a good thing for the public education system. First, the hiring of new public school teachers would become more selective, thus increasing the quality of public school teachers. Also, more education funds would be freed up because of the voucher system, which costs thousands less per-pupil. Assuming this money is kept in the public education system, it would mean that struggling public schools could financially benefit as funds become more available.

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Your Citation
Hawkins, Marcus. "The Case for School Choice." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Hawkins, Marcus. (2020, August 28). The Case for School Choice. Retrieved from Hawkins, Marcus. "The Case for School Choice." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 9, 2023).