What is school choice?
Government-funded education, free to the student at the point of service, is widely believed to be a core function of the state, necessary for rich civic life. In America, the public good of funding education has been falsely conflated with government administration of schools. School choice programs are designed to give control of education decisions back to parents, who know their children best.
In January of 2017, a poll by the Atlanta Journal Constitution found 61% of registered voters in Georgia favored “school choice” – the blanket term for several alternatives to failing government-run schools. Support for choice tops 50% in every demographic group (gender, race, age, political party, income, education, and geography). The school choice movement is nonpartisan (84% of Republicans, 55% of Democrats and 67% of Independents support public funding of choice) and diverse (Latinos 75%, African Americans 72% and Millennials 75%).
Why is school choice a priority for Libertarians?
Government-run public schools are failing American students, particularly vulnerable children who most need the opportunities a great education can provide. School choice, including choice supported by taxpayers, offers better outcomes for all students.
- Every 26 seconds a child drops out of a public school, 1.2 million drop-outs every year.
- As school districts have consolidated (from 100,000 in 1950 to just 15,000 districts in 1990) students and parents have had fewer choices.
- Excellent public school districts are prohibitively expensive to move into, locking at-risk kids into schools more racially segregated and economically stratified than they were in 1960.
- Despite record-high per-student spending ($13,500 in state, local, and federal money) student performance continues to fall. By comparison, charter school and private school expenditures ($8.5K and $5.5K respectively) have reduced costs and increased the quality of education wherever they have been permitted.
- Teachers’ unions, administrators, and local government frequently protest choice programs, falsely claiming diverting funding from public schools to vouchers harms students. Of 31 empirical studies examining the evidence, 29 found that increased choice actually improved the performance of nearby public schools. Choice promotes competition, and competition improves quality.
- 18 random assignment experimental studies confirm that students who receive vouchers perform better than similarly situated students who had no school choices. Students of color benefit most, with voucher recipients and charter school students 21% more likely to graduate high school and 30% more likely to graduate from college. Just 69% of students in DC public schools graduated in 2016, while 98% of recipients of Washington DC’s Opportunity Scholarship Program graduated and 86% were accepted into college.
What are my School Choice options in Georgia?
Public Choice Options:
Open enrollment public schools
Open enrollment policies allow students to attend public schools other outside their geographic districting (inter-district) or to transfer to other public schools within their home districts (intra-district) at little or no cost. Mandatory open enrollment districts must receive transfer students, while voluntary open enrollment districts may choose whether to allow transfer students. District-by-district listings of open enrollment status are maintained by Education Commission of the States.
Magnet schools are tuition-free, government-funded schools specializing in limited subject areas or innovative learning approaches including science and technology, performance and music, or languages. These schools are permitted to recruit interested students from across geographic district lines, attracting a diverse set of students and committed parents. Transportation, special education, and language-learning services are typically provided at no cost to students.
Operated independently of the public school system by private (usually not-for-profit) organizations approved by the state, charter schools provide more autonomy and accountability than traditional government schools. Charters are usually exempt from state education requirements regarding hiring and curriculum, focusing instead on raising student achievement in accordance with their charters. While not administrated by government, charters are funded with tax dollars, and so cannot charge tuition, must have fair and open enrollment, must be secular, and are required to serve all student populations, including students with disabilities and English language learners. State-approved online charter school programs, including Georgia Cyber Academy, Georgia Connections Academy, or Provost Academy are also available.
Private Choice Options:
Home study, or home schooling, allows parents to teach their children at home or in small home school associations, rather than in designated state schools. Georgia home study programs must teach reading, language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science, at a minimum. Curriculum, testing, and resource materials must be purchased by parents from private vendors, and are not subsidized or reviewed by the state. Children must be registered with the state as being home schooled, and home schooling parents must have a high school diploma or GED. Families may employ a tutor or participate in cooperative programs at their own expense.
Independent schools neither administered by government nor funded by taxpayers, private schools may be for-profit, not-for-profit, religious, or secular. These schools are permitted to select and screen student applicants and their families, to charge tuition for all or part of the cost of education, and to incorporate religious instruction (or not). Relieved of much of the regulatory burden of high stakes testing regimes and curricular control, schools themselves may determine the criteria for admission and advancement of students, as well as hiring and firing of staff, and programs to be offered (special needs education and language support, for example, may not be offered).
Vouchers and Credits
In some cases, the state may grant financial assistance in the form of school vouchers, tax credits for scholarship sponsors, personal tax deductions for tuition, or tax-exempt education savings accounts (ESA). Georgia has two such programs:
Georgia’s Qualified Education Expense Tax Credit:
A tax-credit scholarship program launched in 2008 to help prior public school students access private schools chosen by parents. Just 900 students participated in the 2008 school year – that number had more than tripled by 2013.
The Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program:
A school voucher program enacted in 2007 to help students with special developmental or educational needs access schools best equipped to help them succeed.