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School Choice: The Good News
By David W. Kirkpatrick (November 27, 2008)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

 
         It might be said that trying to reform the public schools is more difficult than trying to move a cemetery.  In other words, almost impossible.
 
         Exhibit A is school vouchers, to fund students rather than institutions.  This is common in higher education and, for basic education, it was first proposed by Adam Smith in the Wealth of Nations in 1776.  Thus the idea is older than the beginnings of the nation's public school system with the passage of Pennsylvania's  Common School Act in 1834, and even older than the United States, which began with the adoption of the Constitution in 1787.
 
         Further, the idea  has long been a reality in this nation in states such as Vermont and Maine, not to mention other nations, such as Sweden which has a universal voucher program for all students.
 
         The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, in the current edition of its annual report, "The ABC's of School Choice," notes that, as of the first of this year, there were 21 school choice programs in 13 states and the District of Columbia. Not only that bu t nine of the 21 programs were enacted in the last three years and ten others were expanded.  As a result, about 190,000 students now use vouchers and tax-credit scholarships to attend private schools while another 647,000 students take advantage of personal tax credits.
 
         And this only begins to measure the ability of students/parents to exercise educational choice.
 
         There are about 5,000,000 students in nonpublic schools, as many as 2,000,000 being homeschooled, and 1,300,000 in the rapidly growing charter school movement.  Largest of all, and perhaps the least noted, are the public school students able to exercise choice.  A survey some years ago found that 53% of public school parents said they live where they do so their children can attend the public schools they are in.  Fifty-three percent of 50,000,000 public school students is more than 26,000,000 students taking part in an educational program of their choice.
 
         This is something that even the teacher unions, in their almost irrational fear of school choice, fail to recognize.
        Adding up these options means that some 35,000,000 are already involved in the schooling of their choice.  Thus they aren't likely to make a move if a universal voucher/scholarship program were to come into existence.
 
         So who are the 20-25,000,000 students who, locked into a present system whether or not they like it, would be most likely to make a change?  Clearly it is those whose family situation and income severely limit their options.  They are the ones for whom teacher unions and the elected officials they control like to symbolically shed crocodile tears at the same time they do everything possible to keep such students locked in place despite the harm being caused.
 
         But, wait.  There's more good news.
 
         The Friedman Foundation reports that it is currently working toward school choice in 22 states   Nor is it alone.  The report cited thanks its "many partners for their help," and then lists 30 such organizations in the nation.
 
         Further evidence of the movement's growing strength is in the latest (December 2008) issue of School Reform News (SRN) from the Heartland Institute in Chicago.  The good news is that its reports on school choice programs alone, such as the early stages of an effort in Georgia for a universal voucher program are more than could be fully covered in the 700 words of commentaries such as this.  The better news is that even that much detail doesn't begin to report on all that is happening.
 
         One item, though, is irresistible. The Florida School Choice Fund, based in Tampa, recently announced the addition of two staff members.  This, of course, happens all the time.  What is significant here, however, is that one, Doug Tuthill, the Fund's new president, was a teachers' union leader. The other, Jon East, the Fund's new communications director, is a former editorial writer for the St. Petersburg Times, who had written articles critical of school choice.  He said that his move was influenced by Tuthill.   The latter, in turn, was quoted by SRN has saying they "have gotten positive feedback from all sides."
 
         The revolution marches on!!!

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         "A new poll...found only 17 percent of Maryland voters consider their public schools to be good or excellent, and only 18 percent would choose a regular public school if they could have their choice of any type of educational program."  Michael Coulter, "Support for Educational Choice Is Strong in Maryland, Poll Shows," p. 5, School Reform News, Chicago: The Heartland Institute, December 2008

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Copyright 2008 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633

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