NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

School Choice For All

April 24, 2001

Many American families already have an extensive choice of public schools for their children. But they are upper- and middle-income families who can afford to choose where they live. It is lower-income families who are trapped in failing urban schools, while others move to better school systems.

Thus, proposals for school choice programs merely extend to all children the opportunities now enjoyed by many, and by creating competition for students, school choice can improve education for every child.

  • For example, assuming each of the 79 school districts within a 50-mile radius of downtown Dallas, Texas, has at least two campuses at each grade level, a typical family has a choice of about 158 public schools -- provided the parents can afford to buy a house in any neighborhood and are willing to commute to work.
  • A study by researchers at Southern Methodist University and the Dallas Federal Reserve Bank found that North Dallas houses near higher-ranking elementary schools sold for about 20 percent more than houses near lower-ranking schools.
  • And an informal survey by Dallas attorney H. Martin Gibson of housing prices in Highland Park -- a wealthy Dallas suburb -- found that, all else being equal, homes in the Highland Park Independent School District sell for 24 percent more than other homes in Highland Park that are within the boundaries of the Dallas Independent School District., implying homeowners pay about $72,000 to send their children to Highland Park schools.

Schools do make a difference in student performance, say researchers. A National Center for Policy Analysis study found more than 70 percent of African-American and Hispanic first graders in Texas passed a state test of minimum basic skills. But by the time they reached the ninth grade, more than half the minority students in Texas were failing.

Source: John C. Goodman and Matt Moore, "School Choice vs. School Choice," Policy Backgrounder No. 155, April 27, 2001, National Center for Policy Analysis.

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