A way out of private education woes

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Charter schools are set to replace traditional district schools as the dominant form of public schooling if their growth rates continue for a few decades. Given that charters slightly increase what their charges learn, at lower costs to taxpayers, that???s overall a positive thing for the kids they will reach. But for those of us who love curricular diversity, quality, and education freedom, what does all that mean for private schools and private school choice?

Matthew Ladner considered this question recently, and he thinks the early data suggest a grim outlook for private schools, even those in states where education funding systems are less slanted towards government schooling.

Private choice scholarship amounts routinely trail funds provided to charter schools across the country. Once you fill up empty seats at existing private schools, you create a huge incentive for school operators to open new charter as opposed to private schools with the much higher rates of per-student funding offered.

Anyone who talks to people opening new schools, as I do frequently, can confirm Ladner???s observation. Charters are more attractive to education entrepreneurs because they offer a) more funding, b) more infrastructure (support and lobbying organizations, access to government perks such as capital funds and start-up grants, etc.), and c) much broader availability (22 states offer vouchers or tax-credit scholarships, 42 states allow charter schools). I???ll add a fourth: Charters are a new concept, while private schools are very old. So charters have the opportunity to introduce themselves fresh, while every private school must contend with people???s pre-existing ideas about private schools: They???re expensive, exclusive, for white people, steeped in religion, whatever.

It???s time for people who care about offering families a wide menu of education options, and fostering the vibrant education marketplace that only private-sector inclusion can offer, to start thinking about and pushing for broader, whole-system changes. These start from the ground up as well as the top-down. In other words: Yes, the education ecosystem desperately needs brave state lawmakers to help clear out the regulatory weeds choking it to death. But it also needs people to plant new seeds–schools, teacher training institutes, parent empowerment organizations. To do this requires understanding why cultivating such an ecosystem is the best way to help society thrive, and passionately communicating that knowledge.

Here???s a small foray into that arena: People thrive when they can make serious decisions about themselves and their families. The most genuine accountability is that between a parent and child. Charter schools can offer a good fit for some families, but the human imagination is so boundless it???s narrow-minded to think charters can answer everyone???s needs. So let???s not make charters the next public education box that will need busting in 30 years. Let???s build into education policy the flexibility to let people discover their own education paths, because humans flourish in proportion to the freedom they own.