School Choice Can Help Defeat Poverty—But Only If Government Gets Out of the Way

Published February 23, 2018

In January, 6.7 million people are gathering to celebrate and demand more school choice at some 30,000 events and rallies nationwide, yet government schools continue to usurp the role of parents at an alarming pace.

Parents intrinsically want to raise and oversee the care of their own children; it’s human nature to want the best for your offspring. But despite their inherent desires and supplications for educational freedom, the American education elite continue to turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to what the overwhelming majority of people want.

But that’s only part of the story. Education freedom isn’t just about liberty; it’s also about results. The U.S. public education system has been failing kids for decades, but it’s worst of all for impoverished kids in many urban schools.

On January 20, the Chicago Sun-Times reported in a headline, “Six Chicago Public Schools Getting Washers and Dryers to Help Students in Need.” The Sun-Times story uses a truly tragic illustration for why the washers and dryers are needed at some schools: An orphan middle school student in Chicago worried his classmates will make fun of him for smelling bad, since he has no way to wash his clothes. The boy’s situation is heartbreaking.

The article goes on to highlight the dire circumstances of homeless students trapped in a series of temporary living situations and the embarrassment experienced by many impoverished families who don’t want to send their children to school in dirty clothes. It’s a desperate, heart-wrenching reality that some families are unable to provide clean clothes for their children to wear to school. And though cleaning the clothes at school is a charitable act and a quick fix to the singular problem at hand, it doesn’t get to the root of the matter: the cycle of poverty prevalent in so many urban regions in the United States.

The connection between poverty and education is well-documented and virtually certain.

“Poverty and education are inextricably linked where education is a primary means of social mobility, enabling those born into poverty to rise in society,” The Huffington Post reported in 2012. “Powerful evidence of the link include the fact that 46 percent of Americans who grew up in low-income families but failed to earn college degrees stayed in the lowest income quintile, compared to 16 percent for those who earned a college degree.”

More recently, the University of California at Davis reported, “In 2014, those who had no high school diploma comprise a far greater share of the population in poverty than their share of the general population, and those with a high school diploma and no college comprise are overrepresented to a lesser degree.”

With this data in mind, consider that there are numerous studies showing school choice leads to better academic outcomes for students, and thus better economic opportunities. For instance, a Harvard University report released in 2015 showed, as the MacIver Institute reported at the time, “Low-income students who received vouchers to attend the private school of their choice were more likely to graduate from college.”

Similarly, U.S. News and World Report reported earlier this year, “The largest private school choice program in the country, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, significantly improves the likelihood that students enroll in college, according to new research.”

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation reported, “Based on seven years of data, [a University of Minnesota professor] estimates that the graduation rate for students in Milwaukee’s choice program was about 18 percent higher than for students in MPS (Milwaukee Public Schools). Had MPS achieved the same graduation rate as students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, an additional 3,939 Milwaukee students would have graduated from 2003 to 2009.”

A 2013 study on “The Impact of School Vouchers on College Enrollment”found, “African American students who used a voucher to attend private school were 8 percentage points more likely to enroll full-time in college, a 31 percent increase.”

You get the point. Overwhelming evidence shows there are tremendous benefits associated with school choice. It’s a virtual undisputed fact education freedom leads to higher high school and college graduation rates, which in turn lead to much lower poverty rates down the road.

As it is now, though, a very small percentage of students have access to school choice programs, and a clear majority attend failing government schools. If they graduate at all, few of the most underprivileged students make it to college. But with school choice, these students’ chances of breaking the cycle of poverty and government dependency significantly increases.

Don’t these children deserve every chance at success we can offer them? Don’t their parents deserve the opportunity to experience the pride that comes with being able to provide for their own families? To feed them with food they buy themselves, to wash their clothes, and provide basic life necessities?

Let’s listen to these disadvantaged families and give them what they so desperately want and need in the form of educational freedom. At this point, it’s not just good policy; it’s a moral imperative.

[Originally Published at Townhall]