NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Educational Competition Pays Dividends

November 11, 1997

Public schools in some areas of the country recognize the need to compete with local charter and voucher schools to attract parents and students, education experts report. Charter schools, which are taxpayer funded but freed from much of the red tape of public schools, are so far the most prevalent form of school choice.

For example, Mesa, Ariz., public school officials -- alarmed by the flight of students to 19 local charter schools -- recently took out full-page newspaper ads touting the virtues of the region's public schools in an effort to lure students back. Every student there who opts for a charter school education takes $4,000 in state money with him.

Advertising aside, choice advocates argue that competition generated by charters can lead to more concrete and fundamental reforms among public schools.

  • In recent years, some public schools have made such key changes as beefing up math and science classes and adding time to the school day, say analysts.
  • After public schools in Lansing, Mich., lost 5 percent of their student base last year -- at $6,000 per student -- to the more than 100 charter schools operating in the area, public school officials countered by announcing tough new goals such as higher grades and reduced dropout rates, as well as adding more all-day kindergarten programs (and in doing so lured back 345 students from charter schools this year).
  • Milwaukee public school officials -- faced with the possible loss of 5,000 to 15,000 students to voucher schools -- announced a flurry of reforms, restaffed six poorly performing schools and opened a charter school and eight specialized schools.
  • But when a state court ruling last year halted Milwaukee's voucher program, pending a challenge from the state teachers' union, public school reforms slowed to a crawl.

Milwaukee school board member John Gardner says that the public schools' response "just proves we need more competition." He adds that as soon as the threat of actually losing students and money was taken away, "we stopped responding."

In Holland, Mich., school officials sent letters to parents who enrolled their children in two area charter schools and asked them to rethink their decision. They also revamped a school-system newsletter to better tout efforts to improve schools.

"As a result of charter schools, public schools are having to significantly change the way they communicate with the public," admits the Holland public schools superintendent.

Source: Laura M. Litvan, "School Choice Spawns Reforms," Investor's Business Daily, November 11, 1997.


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