A Common Sense Approach To School Choice

By Walt Rogers

Let's take a step back from all the numbers, charts, and research on the issue of school choice.  If we’re honest, most of us only believe the data that fits with our narrative anyway.  Instead, we can discuss a couple of arguments that opponents of school choice trot out and apply some basic common sense to both of them.

Supporters of the public-school bureaucracy like to say that public education funds should only be spent at public institutions.  That line of thinking begs the question, “Are public education dollars meant to fund the education of students or just fund the education system?”  Those are two very different things.

If we can agree that those funds are ultimately for the benefit of students and not the system itself, then we can consider all the other ways our country and our state have been letting people use public money at private institutions for decades:

The G.I. Bill and Iowa Tuition Grant are used at private (even faith-based!) colleges.

Medicaid is used at private hospitals and clinics.

Section 8 Housing Grants support rent payments on privately-owned properties.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are used at privately-owned retailers.

Why then do some want to single out this function, K-12 education, and restrict the choice Iowans have to only government-run options?  And let’s not forget what public funds truly are anyway- they are dollars collected from the taxpayer and then used for the public good; educating our students certainly seems to fit the definition of the public good.  So, with all due respect to people who continue to promote this concern of public dollars going to private institutions, our common sense tells us that argument falls flat.

Another argument opponents of school choice try to make is private schools are not held accountable, while public schools are.  I’m not sure anything could be farther from the truth.  In fact, we explored the demand for greater accountability earlier this year.

If the parent of a public-school student is not satisfied, they have very few means available to them to hold that school accountable.  The reality is the ultimate measure of accountability is people voting with their pocketbooks, and as long as education funding can only go to public schools, common sense tells us those public schools won’t truly be held accountable.

Now, private schools on the other hand don’t get a steady flow of government dollars.  They have to make sure they measure up in the eyes of parents or they risk losing that student and the tuition payments that accompany them.  A parent voting with dollars and armed with the possibility of their student going somewhere else is the ultimate accountability.  Any common-sense thinking person knows this.

Support for providing school choice should be boiled down to one simple premise: parents must be enabled to choose the best educational path for their children.  A one-size-fits-all approach to delivering education in our splintered society doesn’t seem to work anymore.  Let’s make real school choice an option for every Iowa student.