Twenty five years ago I leveraged practically every cent our young family had and missed my younger child’s fourth birthday to attend a conference on libertarian political theory held at Dartmouth College organized by the CATO Institute. There, I asked executive director David Boaz whether private school vouchers should initially be introduced to assist those living in poverty or whether their adoption should be offered to each public school student. He advised that they should first be provided to low income students so that more of the general public would rally around their use.
Much has changed, in a positive way, for public education reform since that time. The Friedman Center for Education Choice estimates that there are now 25 school voucher programs in 14 states and the District of Columbia that enroll over 148,000 kids. In addition, the same organization reveals that currently 3,000 students take advantage of educational savings accounts in five states, with another 202,000 pupils benefiting from 20 tax-credit scholarship arrangements found in 16 localities. Finally, the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools details that during the 2013 to 2014 school term over 2.5 million students attended charter schools.
Recently, Nevada passed an educational savings account plan available to almost all families, independent of income. The editors of the Washington Post claim this is too much. “By subsidizing families who do not need aid, the state wastes public money that would be better directed to low-income students in academically struggling schools.”
The problem for the Post is that wealthy parents can afford to send their children to private schools so, according to the newspaper’s editors, it is not right to reimburse them up to $5,000 a child for the cost. But this is actually an antiquated view of how public education is funded in America today.
For example, in the nation’s capital we provide all public school students essentially a scholarship to attend the traditional public or charter school of their choice equal to the amount dictated by the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. Could you imagine the outrage if we told taxpaying citizens that they had to cough up the money to send their children to some of our high performing facilities just because of how much they make?
This issue becomes even more relevant considering what took place just a few days ago in Washington State. Their Supreme Court ruled that charter schools are unconstitutional, because, according to the Associated Press “charter schools don’t qualify as ‘common’ schools under Washington’s Constitution and can’t receive public funding intended for those traditional public schools.” The decision creates chaos for the 1,200 kids already enrolled in the nine charters that have been established. Our local charter school support organization, Charter Board Partners, opened a Seattle office in 2014.
The ruling by the Seattle Supreme Court came after a year of deliberation and was based upon the fact that charters are run by a non-publicly elected board of directors. Instead of seizing on a particular governance structure or whether affluent families can take advantage of educational savings accounts we should re-focus our attention on the benefit of our children. We should allow families to send their kids to the school of their choice.