More than 18 months into a pandemic that has upended school districts across the country, parents increasingly support alternatives to the traditional top-down public school system. But school choice doesn't just offer more options to families—a new study suggests that it has benefits for states too.
EdChoice, a nonprofit that supports school choice, released the study this month. It found that among 40 different tuition-grant and tax-credit programs nationwide, there was a cumulative net savings from 2011 to 2018 of between $12 billion and $28 billion. Much of the savings stem from the cost difference: In some cases, the cost of traditional public schooling is nearly triple what would be spent on private schools.
This news arrives as parental dissatisfaction with their children's schools is causing trouble for elected Democrats. Earlier this month, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, heavily favored to retake Virginia's governorship, was defeated by Republican newcomer Glenn Youngkin. While many reasons were likely at play, one of the most prominent was McAuliffe's apparent animus toward parental involvement in school curricula. "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach," the candidate said in a debate, handing Youngkin a valuable soundbite. After a year and a half when parents were forced to become de facto substitute teachers, and in some cases took issue with the lessons' content, the sentiment rankled plenty of voters.
Unfortunately, it remains unclear how far that lesson will travel. Earlier this month, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan vetoed two bills that would have provided low-income and at-risk students with scholarships for extracurricular assistance. The bills would have established an Education Savings Account (ESA) program, in which parents would receive money from scholarships funded by tax-deductible donations; they could then use those funds however they saw fit to help their children catch up. Whitmer had already vetoed an earlier bill intended to help low-performing students, saying that it was too similar to a "voucher program." Similarly, the Michigan Democrat derided the newer bills as an attempt to "privatize education."
Arizona has the oldest ESA program in the country. The EdChoice study found that it saves the state's taxpayers between $1 billion and 3.2 billion over the eight years included. And it's broadly popular with the parents who participate.
Rather than reward McAuliffe with another term in office, voters opted for the candidate who campaigned on greater school choice. Democrats like Whitmer should heed the voters' choice—both for their constituents' sake, and for their own.