What Does School Choice Mean?

School Choice is a big topic in education right now.  Many states are re-vamping their legislative agendas to deal with the topic while many others are changing regulations that have been in place for decades.  Parents of K to 12 students tend to interpret the idea of “school choice” in a variety of ways.  Some feel the entire issue is that they should be able to send their child to whichever school they think is better than their neighborhood school.  Others actually believe it means they should have the choice to not send their child to school. In reality, there’s a bit of each of those ideas in the current interpretation of school choice.


What Exactly is “School Choice?”

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) offers this definition:  “School Choice is essentially a way the government can allow educational tax dollars to be used to enable parents to choose whatever education option they feel is best for their kids. It breaks the cycle of forcing families to send their kids to floundering public schools because of where they live.” (https://aclj.org/school-choice/what-is-school-choice?view=original )

The base issue is that many parents feel that they have no say in how their education tax dollars are spent or how their children are educated.  Once again from the ACLJ: “Through school choice, some of that tax money, or at least the choice of where it goes, is returned to parents through a variety of options including School Vouchers, Educational Savings Accounts, Charter and Magnet Schools, Tax-Credit Scholarships, and Tax Credits and Deductions.”

The National School Choice Week website (https://schoolchoiceweek.com/what-is-school-choice/) expands the idea to allowing children to succeed in a school where they are more comfortable in terms of their individual learning styles:  “School choice is the process of allowing every family to choose the K-12 educational options that best fit their children. Every child is unique, and all children learn differently. Some children might succeed at the neighborhood public school, while others might fit in better at a charter, magnet, online, private or home learning environment.”


How Has the Pandemic Influenced School Choice Options? 

This past winter, many governors framed the education portion of their State of the State addresses directly around how the pandemic has influenced every conversation about education for the coming 2021-2022 school year. Many governors highlighted the potential for expanding school choice options as a way to take the pressure off parents trying to work from home while also teaching their children at home. (https://news.yahoo.com/analysis-difference-pandemic-makes-school-215000481.html

Ten governors promised to expand school choice options. Most notable among them was the Republican Governor of Mississippi, Tate Reeves, who said he wants to “ensure that parents have the choice to save their child from a district that lets them down.”  Republican governors from Iowa and Maryland pledged to inject money into private school scholarship funds.

It remains to be seen how many governors will be able to translate school choice promises into school choice realities, but the energy and intent to do so are definitely in strong focus across the country.


What Does School Choice Look Like in My State 2021?

For a comprehensive summary of alternatives for parents who choose not to send their children to the school they are assigned, check out the Education Policy website interactive map of the states at:  https://ballotpedia.org/School_choice_information_by_state.

On April 23, 2021, the redefinED website posted an article entitled “Education Choice Legislation Continues Its March Across U.S.” The article highlights what’s happening in Indiana and emphasizes “the growing ranks of policymakers nationwide who either are launching or shoring up programs to provide more educational choice to families.” (https://www.redefinedonline.org/2021/04/education-choice-legislation-continues-its-march-across-u-s/ )

Homeschooling and School Choice

School Choice options have been a topic of discussion in the homeschooling arena for some time. The basic idea of School Choice is to provide government education dollars (tax dollars) to alternative education modes, including homeschools. Many homeschool advocates question whether accepting tax dollars to fund attendance at homeschools will eliminate basic hard-won freedoms afforded to now-independent homeschools.  

Rodger Williams, in a December 4,2020 article for the website Homeschool Backgrounder (https://homeschoolingbackgrounder.com/ ) notes that “Government funding for homeschoolers is a primary tenet of the School Choice movement.”  Williams believes that accepting government funding directly undermines freedom in a homeschool atmosphere. “Government funds come with strings attached,” he writes, “and ‘just don’t take the money’ does not work for homeschoolers.”  

Rodgers wraps up the discussion clearly:  “There are two forces acting in concert here against homeschoolers’ interests.

School Choice advocates want government funding for homeschoolers in order to keep intact their thesis that the government should make all forms of education financially available to families. Adversaries of homeschooling will use any tool available to restrict homeschooling, including legislators’ misperceptions about “those homeschoolers getting public money. That combination is what undermines homeschooling freedom.”


Does School Choice Make Sense?

In 2017, the Huffington Post wrote that school choice is “just a scam to make private schools cheaper for rich people, further erode the public school system and allow for-profit corporations to gobble up education dollars meant to help children succeed.” (https://www.huffpost.com/entry/top-10-reasons-school-choice-is-no-choice_b_58a8d52fe4b0b0e1e0e20be3)

On the flip side, school choice advocates say that school choice vouchers, scholarships and education savings accounts are much less expensive than what public schools are currently spending; that offering these options increases the overall quality of local schools; and that the flexibility parents get from education savings accounts gives them a real incentive to save money in order to make their education dollars go as far as possible. (The Heritage Foundation, https://www.heritage.org/education/commentary/here-are-10-reasons-school-choice-winning.) 


Is School Choice the Right Answer for SY 2021-2022?

School Choice will be a major topic for the 2021-2022 school year. The idea of school choice will continue to be hotly debated across the U.S. education system.  If for no other reason, school choice might be a good way to radically “shake up” a U.S. education model that has not changed substantially for decades and is, in many ways, not working. Perhaps providing more options to the one-choice-fits-all public school system would cause the education world to move out of that rut, step out of the current comfort zone and recognize the need for expansive changes to the nation’s way of educating our children.  Something to think about.

School Choice Resources


January 2021 summary “School Choice in the States” is available at https://www.edchoice.org/engage/brief-school-choice-in-the-states-january-2021/

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