Charter Schools

How COVID-19 Is Spreading School Choice

The growing movement to fund students rather than government monopolies


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The COVID-19 lockdowns have upended no part of our lives more than K-12 education, with virtually no public schools open for business with full-time, in-person instruction.

The result has been pandemonium for students, parents, and educators, who are scrambling to make sense of school systems that are no longer capable of fulfilling their missions.

The one constant? Critiques of school choice—especially by wealthy, well-connected liberals and progressives, such as Samantha Bee, who claimed on a recent episode of her TBS show Full Frontal, that charters have little oversight. As a matter of fact, charter schools are overseen by state and local education officials.

Bee is joined in her contempt for charters by Joe Biden, who came out swinging in an interview with the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, saying, "Now a lot of these charter schools are significantly underperforming…"

Corey DeAngelis, the director of school choice at the Reason Foundation and the co-editor of the new collection School Choice Myths: Setting the Record Straight on Education Reform, points to a meta-analysis by the University of California, San Diego, economists Julian R. Betts and Y. Emily Tang, which "conclude[s] that there's about a 2 to 3 percent standard deviation increase in academic outcomes" at charter schools.

DeAngelis, who holds a Ph.D. in education from the University of Arkansas, says widespread dissatisfaction with online education is massively increasing interest in school choice.

"The school system has gotten so bad that families are figuring out that there's no good reason to fund institutions when you can fund students directly." He told Reason last week. "People are reinvisioning the factory model of schooling."

DeAngelis points to a poll showing that 17 percent of parents who have disenrolled their children from traditional public schools this fall wouldn't go back even if the schools reopened for in-person instruction. Charter school operators in states such as South Carolina are expecting a 40 percent increase in the size of their student bodies in the coming year.

"If the charter schools aren't accountable to families, why are 3.2 million families choosing charter schools each and every year?" DeAngelis said in response to Samantha Bee. "Families can take can take their children elsewhere if the charter schools aren't doing a good job."

DeAngelis also cites a recent study of low-income minority students in Boston who attended charters.

"They found pretty large increases in 10th-grade academic proficiencies on their state exam, [and] higher enrollments in college as well….The findings were overall positive for students with special needs that won a lottery to attend a charter."

DeAngelis says there's no turning back when it comes to school choice.

"If your grocery store doesn't reopen, you can take your money elsewhere. If your child's school doesn't reopen, you should similarly be able to take [your] children's education dollars elsewhere. And when you look at all of these other taxpayer-funded initiatives, that the funding follows the person, it doesn't go to the institution regardless of how well it meets your needs. And so I think more people are seeing this issue with how we finance K-12 education."

Narrated by Nick Gillespie. Edited by John Osterhoudt. Additional Graphics by Austin Bragg.

Music: "Scenery," by Kai Engel, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

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