Liberal Think Tank Makes the Case for School Choice

According to reports, President Trump has pledged to direct $20 billion in federal education funds to support school choice initiatives, which would allow more students to access to a quality education. The move could mean that more families and students could enroll in public charter schools, magnet schools, intradistrict choice (the ability of parents to choose another school within their district), and even private schools in some cases. Still, the move is not without opposition, as some claim that expanding school choice has limited benefit for families and students in rural parts of the country. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) said, for example that, for rural students, “their public school is the only real option and claims to the contrary only amount to ‘false choice.’” However, a new study found that, with certain types of school choice, this is not the case.

A new report on school choice found that the best ways to provide more students with access to school choice is through private and intradistrict school choice. The study, Who Could Benefit from School Choice? Mapping Access to Public and Private Schools? by the Brookings Institute, a think tank, found that these options would provide more than 80 percent of families with a choice school within five miles of their home. Additionally, increased charter schools and intradistrict choice would reduce this number to 50 percent.

The best ways to provide more students with access to school choice is through private and intradistrict school choice.

In their report, Brookings recommended that federal policymakers focus on types of choice which “can function well in different contexts across the U.S.,” due to the fact that American experience is so different around the country. “For example,” the study says.” 95 percent of California and Massachusetts families live within five miles of a private school, compared to less than 60 percent of Montana and West Virginia families.” Of course, this also begs the question- what is the role of federal government in this? Brookings says that it is simply “to provide resources to support such varied efforts through formula funding or competitive grant programs.”

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is a well-known champion of school choice, and her non-traditional nomination sent a clear message that the status quo is going to be challenged in a Trump Presidency. “Secretary DeVos believes deeply in school choice and empowering families, and this is something that lots of families and lots of people on the right side of the political spectrum believe in,” Andy Smarick, a resident fellow with the American Enterprise Institute told Opportunity Lives. “So, if you’re going to advance that kind of change, that’s big. That’s very different than the general way that our public system has been oriented for 100 years.”

Students need a chance to succeed. Choice is that chance.

Students need a chance to succeed. Choice is that chance.

Every child deserves an equal shot at a quality education but, in our current system, not every child has one. School choice provides the promise of this equality, whether that means a child living in the inner city or a rural child living on a farm. As the Brookings Institute found, nearly every child in America can go to a good school within five miles of their home if intra-district and private school choice options are supported. “As your president I will be the nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice,” Trump said in a speech. “I understand many stale old politicians will resist, but it’s time for our country to start thinking big and correct once again.”

For many families stuck in a school district that is not working for them, they are hoping that President Trump will live up to that promise.

Amelia Hamilton is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter @ameliahammy.
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