Private Choice Program in Colorado Beats State Graduation Rate

Published September 1, 2009

A Denver-based nonprofit group has proven school choice works.

Last year the nonprofit Alliance for Choice in Education (ACE), which provides private-school scholarships to low-income students in Colorado, saw 94 percent of its recipients graduate from high school. Compare that to Colorado’s statewide 59 percent average graduation rate, and you will see why school choice is a viable education reform, says ACE spokesman Jonathan Tee.

“I think it really boils down to free-market principles,” Tee said about ACE’s success with students. “Parents are able to make that free choice to pick the school and education market that best fits their children. And they certainly know their children better than we do—or anyone.”

Popular Program

Since ACE’s inception in 2000, it has raised $10 million, provided $6 million in scholarships to more than 700 students, and acquired more than 500 donors.

Started by Denver business leaders who wanted solutions to high dropout rates among minority students, ACE provides half of a student’s private-school tuition, leaving the other half to the parents. This, Tee said, is because even though the families are financially struggling, ACE wants them to take some responsibility.

“We find that it further engages the parent [to pay half],” Tee explained. “They look at the investment more closely and make sure they get a better return on that investment.”

And it works.

So far, Tee said, every student who has gone through ACE’s scholarship program has gone on to college or plans to attend within the year.

Greater Freedom

The reason it works, said Ben DeGrow, an education policy analyst at the Independence Institute in Golden, Colorado, is because the program gives parents greater freedom.

“Empowering parents with access to a greater choice in schools while keeping them invested in their children’s success is a common-sense and effective formula,” DeGrow said.

ACE’s success also sends a message to Colorado educators and officials: Parents are far more invested in their children’s education than the state is, and they are much better suited to decide what schooling option is best for them, DeGrow said.

“With greater educational choice, public schools would be better motivated to partner with parents as respected customers whose business can be won or lost,” DeGrow noted.

Elisha Maldonado ([email protected]) writes from San Jose, California.