In 2011, just 150 events took place to celebrate the first-ever National School Choice Week. This year, the annual celebration of opportunity in education sparked nearly 52,000 events. But just who, exactly, uses the school choice opportunities that millions are celebrating in 2020?
Affluent families have always had access to school choice—whether they elect to move their households to high-performing public school districts or decide to pay for private school tuition out of pocket. But the families who just cannot afford these options are the ones that need formalized school choice opportunities.
In the interest of equity, some states have enacted programs like tax-credit scholarships, vouchers and education savings accounts to offer low-income families the chance to have a choice in their children’s educational journey. Middle-class families, however, often make too much to be eligible for most government-funded choice programs, yet they are not necessarily able to move their families to a better school district or cover the costs of private school tuition. Understanding this, education and state leaders across the country are expanding K-12 education options to level the playing field for even more families from all walks of life.
Private School Choice
Private school choice programs can be found in each of the major regions of the United States, excluding the Pacific Northwest. Some states even have multiple programs. Tennessee, for example, has two private school choice programs, one for students with special needs and another, the newest program in the country, which serves students from two persistently struggling school districts. Additionally, 13 states (and Puerto Rico) have special needs scholarship programs, serving over 73,000 students nationwide. In total, more than 500,000 students in the United States participate in private school choice programs, with low-income students and students with special needs as the main beneficiaries.
More than 1.6 million students in the United States are currently homeschooled. Furthermore, over 600,000 students of these students are minorities, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Some states allow parents who homeschool their children to utilize private school choice programs, and this is contributing to the emergence of a homeschool/micro-school hybrid movement. It is important to note that more than 65% of homeschool students come from households that earn less than $75,000 per year—so homeschooling isn’t just an option for affluent families. Additionally, more than 500,000 homeschool students are from locales designated as “rural” or “town” by the Census Bureau. Together, these data points demonstrate that the homeschool universe is comprised of geographically, racially and economically diverse stakeholders throughout the country.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools recently reported that 3.2 million students across the country are currently enrolled in charter schools. By the fall of 2016, 26% of charter school students were Black, 33% were Hispanic and 4% were Asian/Pacific Islander, demonstrating that minority students are more likely to use charters. Charters also serve more low-income students than the average school district: 58% of all charter school students attend a charter school where more than 50% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRPL). Minority students are choosing charters for good reason. In many places, these schools are achieving outcomes that surpass the traditional public school districts that their students would have otherwise attended.
Expanding Future School Choice Options
Families deserve high-quality education options for their children. As National School Choice Week comes to a close, policymakers, advocates, students and parents alike should continue to advance opportunities that will eventually allow all to make the educational choice that best suits their unique needs.
The Faces and Voices of School Choice
Every child deserves access to a quality education that provides the knowledge, skills and values necessary to prepare them for a successful career and fulfilling life. However, parents struggle day after day with the reality of sending their children to schools that cannot or will not meet their needs. Listen to parents share how having a choice has impacted their families and changed the lives of students in their state.
About the author
Tim Abram serves as ExcelinEd’s Associate Policy Director of Educational Opportunity. Prior to joining ExcelinEd, Tim worked as a public policy manager for VIPKid, a leading ed-tech company. Additionally, Tim has been an education policy fellow for Senator Chris Murphy and a public policy fellow for the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Tim also taught United States history in the Mississippi Delta as a Teach For America corps member. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy Leadership from the University of Mississippi and a Masters of Education specializing in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.