Thomas Jefferson once said, “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our Liberty.” George Washington Carver echoed the sentiment affirming, “Education is the key to unlock a golden door of freedom.” The pursuit of self-mastery has always been at the core of the American ethos. The mantra of “a more perfect union” necessitates intellectual curiosity and fervent debate that can only be nurtured in an educated American public. Learning loss caused by the pandemic and an increasingly politicized classroom environment presents unique challenges to policymakers nationwide. The school choice movement, however, has produced an impressive track record by allowing the law of competition and voluntary decision-making to improve educational conditions and outcomes for all students.
School choice, a term that has reverberated among center-right and libertarian circles since the mid-twentieth century, has seen a recent resurgence since the COVID-19 pandemic. Broadly defined as “a program or policy in which students are given the choice to attend a school other than their district’s public school,” school choice is a mechanism to take the power of educational decision-making out of bureaucrats’ hands and into the parents’. Limiting the role of government in parental decision-making while harnessing the power of market competition makes school choice a prudent and promising public policy.
In March, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law universal school choice, joining the ranks of Arkansas, Iowa, Utah, and West Virginia, who have also done so just this year alone. The former Governor of Arizona, Doug Ducey, and the Arizona legislature are largely credited with starting the school choice revolution with their passage of H.B. 2853, creating Arizona empowerment scholarship accounts in 2022. Other states have followed in a lesser capacity, with North Carolina recently broadening eligibility for the statewide Opportunity Scholarship Fund.
The ability of school choice policy to produce better educational outcomes is evident. When families are not bound to their zip code, they can weigh the alternative options. Thinking in the context of markets, increased competition will naturally benefit firms that meet consumer demands and punish those who do not. In addition, the alternatives available to parents will force failing public schools to improve their conditions to help retain students or recruit others.
Currently, many public schools are not bound by the law of competition, especially in urban and low-income areas where many households do not possess the financial means to opt into a private education. Therefore, what incentives does a failing public school face to improve graduation rates, standardized test scores, or classroom safety? None, because consumers, in this case, parents, are bound to conduct business with the only firm in the market, a failing public school.
Competition can also incentivize the creation of programs such as STEM-focused learning curriculums or transcend the classrooms with unique after-school programs to attract students. Charter schools, for example, often have a more flexible curriculum to accommodate learning disabilities or unique schedules. Through competition, charter, parochial, and public schools alike can begin to specialize and innovate to set themselves apart and attract students.
Policymakers across the ideological spectrum must embrace competition in education. Without competition, policy will remain focused on good intentions, not positive outcomes. Education policy has been riddled with good intentions while ignoring sound and proven policy. The era of merely throwing taxpayer money into failing public schools is over. School choice can be the step in the right direction for America’s youngest generation by harnessing the essence of market competition and returning decision-making to those who know their kids the most— parents.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.