An overwhelming majority of Americans support school choice, which would allow parents to decide where their children are educated.
A 2022 poll found that 72% of respondents support giving parents the right to choose the school their child attends — a supermajority that extends across partisan lines, with 82% of Republicans, 68% of Democrats and 67% of independents in favor of the policy.
“Given how divided Americans are over almost everything, that’s about as bipartisan as it gets,” Mandy Drogin of the Texas Public Policy Foundation notes. “And given that politicians read the polls, school choice should be a slam dunk, right?”
Despite the broad support for such programs, however, political opposition to school choice remains fierce — entrenched education interests argue that allowing students and the tax dollars that follow them to transfer out of public schools and into private or charter schools will end or cripple public schools. Private and charter schools, unlike public schools, are not required to accept all students, and would leave defunded public schools with the students most difficult or expensive to educate while offering them none of the resources to care for them.
These interests are dominant in deep red states such as Texas as well as liberal bastions such as New York and California, all states where school choice remains limited. Drogin argues that the educational outcomes in these states have been suboptimal.“According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 75% of Texas 8th graders are not proficient in reading and math,” Drogin says. “The state’s own assessments are just as grim: 60% of students cannot do math at grade level, and nearly 50% cannot read at grade level.”
Drogin argues that should Texas follow the lead of states like Florida and Iowa, which implemented broad statewide school choice programs in the early 2000s, it too could see vastly improved educational outcomes, especially for low income students. Florida and Iowa were rated in the bottom half of the 50 states in terms of educating such students in 2002, but both had climbed to the top 3 by 2019.
Drogin observed that in these states, public schools had largely not been abandoned: instead, the mere presence of competitors caused them to reform themselves and raise standards and test scores to retain their students and funding. A handful of low performing schools close but most public schools rise to the challenge — parents with a high quality local school have no reason to seek out alternatives.
“In states where parents have choice, public schools improve.”