Charter schools have seen tremendous growth in the United States. For example, in 2014 more than 2.6 million children attended a charter. According to the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools this number has more than doubled since 2007.
Sounds good? Well not really. Also in 2014, 49,751,000 pupils attended their neighborhood school. This means that educational choice was only available to 5.4 percent of families. If you consider other choice programs such as vouchers, educational tax credits, and educational savings accounts the picture is even worse. According to the CATO Institute, 287,298 scholars took advantage of one of these programs a couple of years ago which translated into about 0.6 percent of all students in the United States. The reason that these numbers look so bad is that so many of these offerings are so small. For example, I wrote not too long ago about Maryland passing a school voucher law. That’s good news. But as CATO’s Jason Bedrick points out, “roughly 1,000 low-income Maryland students could receive a voucher next year, which is great for them, but doesn’t do anything for the other 99.9 percent of Maryland’s 880,000 district school students.”
Here in the District kids are much more fortunate. 44 percent of students, almost 39,000 attend charters. That compares to about 49,000 attending DCPS. While this statistic may be impressive the percentage of those in charters has not increased in years. It is almost as if some parents were fortunate enough to take advantage of choice while others are shutout. This year’s charter school waiting list is estimated at 8,600 scholars. The total wait list for all schools in the District is 2,100.
We also have a voucher program in the city for kids living in poverty. About 1,200 young people receive a scholarship to a private school. Only 1.4 percent of children get this option.
I don’t really understand what’s going on here. We talk about streetcars and statehood, homeless shelters and affordable housing. But if it’s societal ills you really want to fix, then let’s educate our children. We know that school choice was the fountainhead that led to the significant improvement in the number of quality classrooms. It’s past time to put this movement in overdrive.