On August 31, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed an education funding bill into law, making Illinois the 18th state to offer tax-credit scholarships. Under this system, individuals or corporations can choose to donate to private scholarship organizations who redirect the money to impoverished parents seeking a better education for their children. In return, the donor receives a tax credit.
This new law—to state it metaphorically, but also quite accurately—liberates low-income kids from a prison with which most are not too familiar: their address. No one is holding their breath to see if school choice will work in Illinois. There is already a mountain of data showing that it does.
According to Dr. Greg Forster’s report titled A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice, 14 of the 18 studies conducted show that students previously enrolled in a public school who took advantage of a school choice program benefitted from their choice academically.
In addition, the report claims that no study has ever shown that school choice programs hurt the taxpayer or the financial state of public schools. In other words, such programs either save money or are not affected.
One would be right to point out that while state programs are one thing, federal-level programs are entirely different. So what about federal policies?
States are, as we know, the “laboratories of democracies.” School choice experiments have been a resounding success at the state level. From Washington D.C. to Wisconsin to Florida, school choice has positively impacted everything from graduation rates to taxpayer savings. Therefore, it would make sense to implement the policy nationally.
The education of America’s kids is at stake. If school choice is not expanded nationally, kids who may have one day grown up to be entrepreneurs, engineers, or doctors will instead be left behind due to a lack of basic skills with which the school system is meant to endow them.
With President Donald Trump pushing for tax reform, the time is ripe to implement a national tax incentive for private donations to scholarship organizations.
29 states have at least one major school choice program, according to The Hill. But even these only reach about 600,000 kids. If Congress enacts school choice legislation, millions of kids would have the opportunity to pursue a better K-12 education.
A major and legitimate concern, however, is that the federal government would most likely only accept tax credits for accredited schools, and it regulates the accreditors. The government could abuse this power by forcing the accreditors to only accept schools that meet certain unfair requirements. While this may not sound too bad, private religious schools could lose their autonomy in a worst-case scenario.
However, since a private donation does not involve government money, then the federal government should not regulate any further. The specifics could be up for the courts to decide in the future, but the transfer of money from the taxpayer to a non-profit scholarship organization to a student certainly should not allow for more government meddling.
Lawmakers need to craft a school choice policy soon. The situation is surprisingly dire: according to the Programme for International Student Assessment — a test that 15-year-olds from different countries take — the United States ranked 38th out of 71 countries in math and 24th in science. In Detroit, a federal testing administrator claimed that students performed “barely above what one would expect simply by chance, as if the kids simply guessed at the answers.”
Competition fosters growth in the private sector, and it would do so in the public education system as well. Chronically failing schools have no right to be teaching children. And we should certainly not be forcing parents who cannot afford private school to send their kids to these schools. As in the marketplace, the better options will prevail and those bad schools will be replaced or forced into improvement by threat of shutting down.
Admittedly, education is a bit more complex than the private market. However, free market principles will help the kids who are forced to go to a certain public school when there are better schools (traditional public, charter or private) right up the street.
The K-12 school system ensures the failure of impoverished inner city kids, forcing them to pass their financial plight to future generations. And so the cycle continues.
A good education and a good family are the springboards from which a low-income kid can compete in the job market. The government cannot provide a good family, but it has an obligation to improve its education system in order to bring equal opportunity to all Americans.
— Henry Queen is a freshman studying journalism. He is a new contributor to The Arch Conservative.