School Choice: Myth vs. Truth

Updated 11/10/17


MYTH #1: Parents choose.

TRUTH: Private voucher schools choose the students they want and routinely deny admission to voucher recipients.


MYTH #2: Vouchers help low income students.

TRUTH: Voucher schools charge tuition in excess of what the voucher pays, do not provide transportation, do not provide free or reduced-price meals, and do not guarantee the quality of education provided.  Giving a private school voucher to a low income student is like giving that student a coupon to Nordstrom’s – there is no Nordstrom store within 100 miles of the student’s home, the student can’t get a ride to the store, can’t pay the full cost of her overpriced purchase beyond the amount of the coupon, can’t afford to buy lunch at the fancy mall, and can’t get money back when the purchase falls apart after two washes. In some states, the bulk of private school vouchers are used by higher income students from wealthier school districts and students already enrolled in private schools, having never attended public schools. The reality of private school vouchers for low income children is no choice at all.


MYTH #3: Competition from school choice makes public schools better.

TRUTH: The “study” conducted by school choice proponents claiming vouchers caused improvements in public schools was debunked in peer review. When their study showed public schools outperformed private voucher schools, school choice “researchers” claimed that the vouchers caused the public schools’ success. Real researchers said, uh, no.


MYTH #4: Voucher schools are accountable to those who matter (parents).

TRUTH: Since vouchers are funded with taxpayer dollars, all taxpayers deserve to know the quality of education being provided for their investment. While public school achievement is made public annually, private voucher schools operate in secret and are an inappropriate use of public funds.


MYTH #5: Vouchers are another tool in the toolbox to provide good choices and better education.

TRUTH: An abundance of research shows that public schools outperform private voucher schools. Voucher schools often are bad choices that provide a lower quality education. Vouchers bleed funds from already under-funded public schools and diminish education opportunities for the overwhelming majority of students – who are educated in public schools and achieve better outcomes than voucher students.


MYTH #6: Private schools have better academic outcomes.

TRUTH: Research shows that public schools outperform private voucher schools. See some of that research here. And read here about public schools’ advantage over private schools.


MYTH #7: Students are admitted to private voucher schools by lottery.

TRUTH: While vouchers themselves are awarded through a lottery system, private school admission is not. The voucher does not come with a guarantee of admission to a private voucher school. Voucher schools are allowed to pick and choose which students they want to admit. They are not required to admit voucher recipients and, in fact, routinely deny admission to students they don’t see as “a good fit” for their schools. In the 2016-2017 school year in Mississippi, 134 of the 425 special needs vouchers awarded to students were not being used as of January 2017. Many parents report that they were unable to use the voucher because no private school would admit their children.


MYTH #8: Vouchers don’t hurt public schools.

TRUTH: When tax dollars are appropriated for vouchers, less funding is available for public schools. For the 2016-2017 school year, the Mississippi Legislature set aside millions of dollars for vouchers to subsidize private school tuition for children with special needs – private schools that are not required to provide any special services at all to students. Simultaneously, the Legislature underfunded special education in public schools by $26.5-million. In Mississippi, when fully funded, state funding for special education provides only for the number of special education teachers needed based on the number of students with disabilities in each school district (no additional accommodations are provided for with state funds). When special education is underfunded, the Legislature is denying Mississippi children with special needs the teachers they need to be successful. The $26.5-million that public school special education students were shorted last year would have provided 531 special education teachers. The $3-million diverted to vouchers would have paid for 60 special education teachers in public schools. School districts made up the shortfall by using regular-ed MAEP funds and local funds to ensure that the needs of children with disabilities were met. All public school students suffer when tax dollars are diverted to voucher schools.


MYTH #9: Vouchers give parents a choice when public schools can’t meet their children’s needs.

TRUTH: In many cases, vouchers subsidize private school tuition for families whose children have always been in private schools. A majority of Indiana students accepting and using taxpayer-funded vouchers never attended public schools. In Wisconsin’s statewide voucher expansion, 68 percent of voucher recipients had been enrolled in private schools prior to accepting a voucher. Georgia’s tax credit scholarships (vouchers) were claimed largely by middle to high income students already enrolled in private schools. These students are quite the opposite of the profile that privatizers put forth to sell the idea of vouchers – that of low income students whose parents claim were under-served in public school. A third-party review of Georgia’s voucher program found: “… the law has been carried out, in large part, as a means to publicly finance the attendance of relatively well-to-do students, many of whom are already in private schools. Instead of saving tax funds, each of the private school scholarships financed by Georgia’s tax credits has cost the state government more than twice what it would spend to send a child to public schools.”


MYTH #10: Vouchers create a “competitive marketplace” for education.

TRUTH: The game is rigged when it comes to school choice. Competition is based on a level playing field; there is nothing level or fair about the “competition” when the competitors play by different rules. The state determines the finish line (standards) for public schools while private schools set their finish line anywhere they choose, with no standards required. Private schools get to pick their teams while public schools take every kid who shows up, no tryouts, no one cut from the team. And while public schools are rightly required by law to spend their resources on critical services such as transportation and special education, private schools spend their resources however they like.


MYTH #11: Students don’t have choices within public schools.

TRUTH: Public schools far outpace private schools in the choices they offer students. Per a new report from the Center for Public Education (CPE), most U.S. public school districts offer a wide range of choices to students, including academic concentrations in arts or STEM, career academies, Advanced Placement and dual credit courses, International Baccalaureate programs, and more. According to CPE, even rural and high-poverty public high schools offer more program choices than private schools.  Providing quality options within public schools is a worthwhile investment of taxpayer dollars. What is a wasteful use of taxpayer dollars? Vouchers to unaccountable private schools that accept only a chosen few and hide their outcomes from public view.


MYTH #12: Education shouldn’t be about funding “systems,” it should fund individual students.

TRUTH: Funding a system of free public schools – schools that are open to all students and accountable to the public – is precisely what our state constitution requires. The role of government is to serve the public good by providing the system and structure within which teachers work. The majority of the funds dedicated to the public school system are used to pay teachers who spend all day every day focused on the needs of individual students. Focusing on the needs of individual students is the job of educators. Funding the systems that exist for the public good is the job of the Legislature. Government funding of individuals for the benefit of individuals, and to the detriment of the common good, is cronyism, and it is a dangerous and inappropriate use of public funds.