Could School Choice Erase the Income Gap?

September 10, 2012

It's puzzling that one of the best remedies for economic inequality, allowing low-income parents to choose the elementary and secondary schools that their children attend, is often left out of political speeches about economic inequality, says Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

The problem is twofold.

  • First, in many communities, children must attend their "neighborhood" public school, although this constraint has been modified in the last decade or so by new rules that let some children in some states qualify for out-of-boundary schools.
  • Second, the teachers' unions oppose monetary subsidies, usually called vouchers, that let students opt out of a local public school and attend another school, whether public or private, secular or parochial.

Unions oppose such choice because it threatens to reduce enrollment in the public schools, especially the worst ones, and shrink the number of employed teachers who pay dues to the union. In this, the unions put institutional self-interest ahead of wider educational choices for low-income children.

It's not difficult to envisage an educational system, like food stamps or housing vouchers, where dollars follow the child. They exist now for students in underperforming schools in states such as Louisiana and Florida, and could be extended to all students.

Data clearly show the success of private schools.

  • In 2011, private schools had a 98 percent graduation rate, according to Education Department data.
  • For Catholic schools, which take children from all walks of life, the graduation rate was 99 percent.
  • In contrast, the 2011 graduation rate for public school children who started high school in 2007 in New York City was 65 percent; nationwide, it was 75 percent.

In addition, private schools have a significantly higher percentage of graduates going on to college.  According to 2011 Education Department data, 40 percent of public school students nationally went on to college, compared to 57 percent of students who attended private schools, 61 percent of students who went to "other religious" schools, and 85 percent of Catholic high school graduates.

Source: Diana Furchtgott-Roth, "Could School Choice Erase the Income Gap?" Real Clear Markets, September 4, 2012.

 

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