by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
School choice advocates were heartened by the ascent of a president who supports their cause and an education secretary who has advocated for it over a long career—and many hope Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos will use the power of the federal government to advance this issue. But if Trump and DeVos want school choice to succeed in the long run, they should demur. The issue has been ascendant for 25 years, largely because Uncle Sam has remained in the back seat while states and communities have been allowed to drive.
Just over a quarter century ago, there were no charter schools and little private school choice—just a few tiny programs for rural students in a couple of New England states. Today, some three million children attend charters nationwide, and another half million attend private schools paid for by taxpayers through publicly funded scholarships, education savings accounts, and tuition tax credits. Choice proponents and opponents often squabble about this or that—charter school funding levels or scholarship accountability provisions. But clearly choice is here to stay. Almost all states have charter school laws, and about half have some kind of private school choice program.
What accounts for this success and stability? It could be the nation’s decentralized approach to these policies.