Congress should expand school choice for America's children

Congress should expand school choice for America's children
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Americans have choice in virtually every part of their lives, but too many families and children lack choice when it comes to K-12 education. As recent surveys have shown, nobody understands this better than millennial, African American, and Hispanic voters who overwhelmingly support school choice. In fact, support for school choice is strong across the ideological spectrum of voters.

Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia offer eligible children publicly-funded scholarships for private schools because parents have made it clear they want more and better educational options for their children. Twenty-five states this year passed a private school choice bill out of at least one legislative chamber.

Congress recently reauthorized and has funded the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program since 2004, a program that has been an educational lifeline for children in low-income families. Congress also funds federal Pell Grants for college, which have provided school choice to millions of students since 1965. Yet, when it comes to school choice for K-12 students across the country, the vice grip on policymakers applied by the education establishment has stifled progress.

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Nearly two decades of research has shown that students participating in private school choice programs graduate high school at higher rates than students in traditional public schools. A new study by Matthew Chingos of the Urban Institute looked at college matriculation for students who had participated in the Florida tax credit scholarship program.

The results showed that if a student enrolled in a private school by way of the Florida tax credit scholarship for more than four years, they were roughly 40 percent more likely to enroll in college. And on average, there was a 15 percent increase in college matriculation for scholarship recipients. It also showed encouraging but modest gains in the likelihood for scholarship students to obtain college degrees, mostly limited to associate degrees and for students who started using the school choice program in earlier grade levels.

These positive long-term impacts illustrated by the Urban Institute’s research are from the largest private school choice program in the country and one that serves mostly minority children in families making $25,000 per year. This is very promising news for Florida’s students and the state’s workforce. More high school and college graduates translates into greater labor force participation, higher earnings for students, more tax revenue, and increased gross domestic product for America.

These results show that through private school choice, disadvantaged populations are better able to reach their potential and climb higher on the ladder of economic mobility. Hopefully, this new research will inspire state and federal policymakers to think boldly and keep pressing forward in expanding educational options. While most state legislative sessions have concluded for 2017, Congress has an opportunity to add a K-12 tax credit to pending tax legislation.

Expanding choice in K-12 education is the pathway to ensuring that every child, regardless of family income or zip code, can access a quality education. If parents are happy with their assigned public school, they will stay. But millions of families and children are seeking a different option and they have every right to make that choice. At the end of the day it should not matter whether it’s a public, private, charter, virtual, home or blend of learning environments. What matters is every student having access to the educational environment that best meets his or her needs.

John Schilling is chief operating officer of the American Federation for Children, the nation’s largest educational choice advocacy organization.