Charters vs. Private School Choice

Martha Woodall, in her recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, notes that Philadelphia parents are craving more school choice options.

In a new Pew Charitable Trusts study, 62% of parents said the expansion of charter schools has been a good thing. The study also found 90% of charter school parents described themselves as “highly satisfied” with their children’s education. In contrast 60% of their peers rated the public schools as “only fair” or even poor. And 67% of charter schools parents said their schools did an excellent job handling safety, while only 31% of public school parents could say the same.

What’s not to like? Well, the expansion of charter schools, combined with the slumping economy, has greatly impacted private schools in the Philadelphia area. Woodall observes that while charter school enrollment has grown 170%, Catholic school enrollment has declined 37%. Parents now have more charter school options than they have private school options.

This phenomenon is not unique to Philadelphia. In 2007, a Washington Post article observed that Archbishop Donald W. Wuerl proposed converting 8 of the city’s 28 Catholic schools into charter schools because the diocese simply couldn’t afford to keep them open. In 2006, a report by the National Charter School Research Project determined that 20% of charter school students in Michigan transferred from private schools.

With many parents struggling economically, why would they spend their money on a private school when the government will pay for their children to go to a charter school? This single, government-funded alternative to public schools, diminishes overall school choice, as well as cost taxpayers more.

A better solution is to follow the example of Belgium. There, education funds are attached to each child, and parents are free to send their children to any school that they choose. According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OCED), Belgium ranks much higher than the United States in each category of quality education.

Total school choice will allow parents to choose the most cost-effective schools for their children. Consequently, education costs will decrease, performance will increase, and parents will be happier with their children’s education. Charter schools alone will not solve everything. Private school choice is the only real solution.

Download the full Pew study here.