By Greg Forster
The debate rages over State Question 744 to the very end. It was a proposal which aimed to improve Oklahoma’s public schools by giving them a lot more money.
More money was not likely to help. School budgets have been ballooning for decades with no improvement, and empirical research confirms that more spending doesn’t produce results.
But researchers have found something that works. In fact, it’s the one solution that has consistently proven to get results in improving public schools. It’s called school choice, and the empirical evidence for it has been piling up for years.
The impact of school choice programs on public schools has been studied 19 times, by researchers at top institutions (Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Cornell, the Federal Reserve, etc.) using high-quality empirical methods.
Let’s stop right there. Even before we look at the results, that is a far more impressive body of research than any other education reform (accountability testing, merit pay, tenure reform, et al.) can boast.
And would you believe that 18 of the 19 studies found that school choice improves public schools, and the one remaining study found no difference?
Every study in Milwaukee has found that the city’s voucher program improved public schools. Every study in Florida has found that its two voucher programs and one tax-credit scholarship program have improved public schools. Every study in Ohio, Texas, Maine, and Vermont has found that school choice programs there improved public schools.
And that one study that found no effect? That was in Washington D.C. And the really interesting thing is that the D.C. voucher program is the only school choice program in the country that deliberately insulates public schools from choice competition. The program pours extra money into public schools when students leave. Thus, students are denied the benefits of healthy competitive incentives that are improving public schools everywhere else school choice has been studied.
So even that outlying study is the exception that proves the rule. We have one school choice program that doesn’t allow competition to affect public schools. And that’s the one program where school choice doesn’t improve public schools.
It’s true that the benefits of school choice so far are not revolutionary. That’s because we haven’t been allowed to have a true, unfettered program that could deliver such results. If the tiny, overregulated programs we’ve tried so far have worked well, how much more would we get from universal school choice?
School choice is now a permanent part of the education reform landscape, and the political conditions for taking it to the next level are only going to get better as other reforms continue to fail.
Even now, the dinosaur media don’t shill for the unions anymore. And the social-justice crowd and others on the political left are repudiating the unions and embracing charter schools—a watered down, halfway house version of school choice. How do you think it’s going to go when they realize that even charter schools aren’t enough?
School choice works. The evidence shows it consistently.
Greg Forster (Ph.D., Yale University) is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Educational Choice.