Arguments against school choice presume we have options

Editor’s note: This commentary appeared last week on

With the recent passage of school voucher bills in Iowa, Arizona, and Utah, and with a similar bill under consideration in Virginia, the question of school choice has increasingly moved to the front and center of our public consciousness.

While parents and politicians have been toying with voucher and charter school programs since the 1980s, the major disruption of schooling caused by pandemic-driven public school policies seems to have made the question all the more pressing.

Dissatisfaction with pandemic schooling led families to leave public schools in droves in 2020 in particular, and the trend has continued ever since. These families have sought alternative educational solutions upon withdrawing from public schooling, not only embracing private schooling and traditional home schooling in great numbers (home schooling rates jumped dramatically to likely somewhere between 6% and 11% of schoolchildren; unfortunately, home schoolers are notoriously difficult to count), but also trying out creative responses such as establishing learning pods and employing private tutors.

Public school systems, on the whole, have reacted shamefully, including the infamous letter sent out by one of the largest school systems in the country, that of Fairfax County, Virginia, telling parents they should not create learning pods because then their children would receive a better education than public school kids, which would leave the public school children behind.

While Fairfax County’s implication that parents should neglect their own children just because taking care of them might “widen the [achievement] gap” is preposterous, it does speak to the underlying problem at the heart of resistance to school choice: that for most Americans currently, there simply is no choice.

And that is why school vouchers are critical to repairing American education.

The idea that most American parents already have choices in education is central to the argument against school vouchers, a claim that is repeated across print, in person, and in social media conversations. The idea is that it is not the public’s job to provide choices in schooling because people already have acceptable choices. Families have a good option in public schooling, and they are also free to send their children to private schools or to educate them at home.

This freedom to choose private or home schooling should not absolve any individual family from paying taxes in support of public education, the argument goes, because we all already have free choices, and we all also have a responsibility to provide a free education for all American children. If a parent cannot afford private school, that is his or her own problem.

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BY Special to NextSteps