Research & Commentary: New Education Freedom Report Card Gauges States’ Education Accountability, Transparency, and Choice Options

Published September 23, 2022

The Heritage Foundation has released its inaugural Education Freedom Report Card, which will help “serve as a guide for assessing education freedom in each state” by measuring four categories including education choice, regulatory freedom, transparency, and return on investment for education spending.

Under education choice, five subcategories contribute to a state’s grade. The first measures whether a state provides families a private school choice program, including the proportion of eligible students and the proportion of students who participate in the programs.

The second examines the design of that program and the degree of regulatory burdens it places on private schools.

The third considers whether the state allows charter schools, the state’s proportion of charter schools to traditional schools, its charter school law rating from the Center for Education Reform’s 2021 National Charter School Law Rankings & Scorecard, and its ranking on the Educational Freedom Institute’s 2022 Charter School Ecosystem Rankings.

The fourth subcategory looks at a state’s homeschooling laws, the associated regulations placed upon homeschooling families, and the total number of homeschooled students in the state.

The fifth measures public school choice, identifying whether a state provides open enrollment, while also analyzing the number of students per public school district and the size of each district, based upon the fact that “larger, more consolidated, districts reduce parental control over how and where their child is educated.” 

The regulation category examines barriers to teaching, specifically determining whether a state provides alternative pathways to certification and whether a state provides full reciprocity for teachers who are certified in other states. Moreover, the category elucidates whether a state has Common Core testing requirements and counts the number of “chief diversity officers” in each state, whom the report claims to be best understood as “political activists” that “likely limit academic freedom in the classroom.”

As for transparency, the report gauges whether a state has a strong critical race theory law reaffirming that “compelled speech is unconstitutional and/or stating that violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in K–12 schools are illegal.” It also looks at the number of parental organizations per pupil, whether parents have access to curricula and teaching materials, whether a state allows public comment at school board meetings, and whether a state holds school board elections on cycle with the general election. The last item is relevant because teachers’ unions “often lobby for off-cycle elections so they can ensure a larger relative turnout from their members. This makes it more likely that union-friendly school board members are elected.”

Finally, the spending category inspects adjusted per-pupil spending from both a nominal and cost of living-adjusted basis, the return on investment of that spending related to academic achievement, the unfunded pension liabilities each state carries as a percentage of its gross domestic product, and the ratio of teachers to non-teachers employed by public schools, as states with a lower ratio see less education funding ultimately reach the classroom.

Florida, Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, and South Dakota hold the top five positions in this inaugural ranking, while the District of Columbia, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Massachusetts occupy the bottom five. These cellar-dwellers do little “to provide transparency, accountability, and choice to families.” Florida is the only state to rank in the top ten in each category, including third in school choice, first in transparency, second in regulatory freedom, and seventh in spending.

“This report card sets a high bar for achieving and maintaining education freedom in the states,” the authors conclude. “Our goal is that this annual ranking of states will not only inform parents and policymakers of what their states do well and where they need improvement, but that it will spur necessary and lasting reform.”

The following documents provide more information about education choice.

2022 Education Freedom Report Card
This Heritage Foundation report serves as a guide for assessing education freedom in each state, based four broad categories (school choice, transparency, regulatory freedom, and spending) that encompass more than two dozen discrete factors, with the goal of informing parents and policymakers of what their states do well and where they need improvement and spurring necessary and lasting reform.

The 123s of School Choice (2020 Edition)
This report from EdChoice is an in-depth review of the available research on private school choice programs in America. Areas of study include: private school choice program participant test scores, program participant attainment, parent satisfaction, public school students’ test scores, civic values and practices, racial/ethnic integration and fiscal effects.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

Fiscal Effects of School Choice
This EdChoice analysis of 40 private educational choice programs in 19 states plus D.C. summarizes the facts and evidence on the fiscal effects of educational choice programs across the United States and finds they have provided up to $28.3 billion in net fiscal savings to state and local taxpayers through Fiscal Year 2018. The programs in the analysis include three education savings accounts programs (ESAs), 19 school voucher programs, and 18 tax-credit scholarship programs.

The Public Benefit of Private Schooling: Test Scores Rise When There Is More of It
This Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute examines the effect increased access to private schooling has had on international student test scores in 52 countries. The Cato researchers found that a 1 percentage point increase in the share of private school enrollment would lead to moderate increases in students’ math, reading, and science achievement.

The Effects of School Choice on Mental Health
This study from Corey DeAngelis at the Cato Institute and Angela K. Dills of Western Carolina University empirically examines the relationship between school choice and mental health. It finds that states adopting broad-based voucher programs and charter schools witness declines in adolescent suicides and suggests that private schooling reduces the number of times individuals are seen for mental health issues.

Child Safety Accounts: Protecting Our Children through Parental Freedom
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Vicki Alger, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and research fellow at the Independent Institute, and Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson detail the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and assault taking place in America’s public schools and the difficulties for parents in having their child moved from a school that is unsafe for them. Alger and Benson propose a Child Safety Account program, which would allow parents to immediately have their child moved to a safe school – private, parochial, or pub­lic – as soon as parents feel the public school their child is currently attending is too dangerous to their child’s physical or emotion­al health.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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