The latest results from the New Jersey State Learning Assessment show just 58 percent of Garden State students in grades 3–8 tested proficient at their grade level in English language arts (ELA). Even worse, only 44 percent tested proficient in mathematics.
Looking further into the data, only 38 percent of black students tested proficient in ELA, and just 22 percent in math. For Hispanic students, 45 percent tested proficient in ELA. Only 28 percent proficient in math. For students who are “economically disadvantaged,” only saw 39 percent tested proficient in ELA. Among this cohort, only 25 percent tested proficient in math.
The results of these tests show New Jersey public schools are failing to educate to grade level roughly half of the students in their charge in ELA and math. These mediocre results from New Jersey public schools are unacceptable and highlights the need for a stark and immediate change from the status quo.
New Jersey public schools need competition. Moreover, New Jersey families need more education options. These goals could be achieved by establishing more private school choice options such as an education savings account (ESA) program.
With an ESA, state education funds allocated for a child are placed in a parent-controlled savings account. Under the proposed program, parents could use a state-provided, restricted-use debit card to access education funds to pay for resources for their child’s unique educational program. ESA funds could be used to pay for tuition and fees at private and parochial schools, textbooks and curriculum materials, online courses, tutoring services, educational therapies, computer hardware, or transportation costs. They could also be used to cover the fees required to take national standardized achievement tests, such as the SAT or ACT, as well as tuition, fees, and textbooks at postsecondary institutions.
Copious empirical research covering ESAs and other school choice programs shows they offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances. Moreover, these programs improve access to schools that deliver quality education inexpensively. Additionally, these programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.
Students at private schools are also less likely than their public school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link suggesting private school choice programs improve the mental health of participating students.
It is probably for these reasons that choice programs are more popular with parents than ever before. The results of EdChoice’s sixth annual “Schooling in America” survey, released in December 2018, found 74 percent of respondents favor ESAs, up 3 percentage points from 2017. According to the survey, support for ESAs is 76 percent among millennials, 72 percent for those with incomes less than $40,000 a year, 79 percent for blacks, 70 percent for Hispanics, 72 percent among self-identified Democrats, and 77 percent among independents. Another 64 percent support voucher programs and 66 percent support tax-credit scholarships.
Supporters of parental freedom in education hope New Jersey lawmakers will take a closer look at the popularity and efficacy of school choice programs in 2020. It is time to reform New Jersey’s mediocre public education system. New Jersey families are ready for education choice. Public schools should not hold a monopoly on education. By implementing an ESA program, legislators can ensure more New Jersey children have the opportunity to attend a quality school.
The following documents can provide more information about ESAs and parental choice in education.
The 123s of School Choice
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.
Protecting Students with Child Safety Accounts
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.
2018 Schooling in America Survey: Public Opinion on K–12 Education, Parent and Teacher Experiences, Accountability, and School Choice
This annual survey from EdChoice, conducted in partnership with Braun Research, Inc., measures public opinion and awareness on a range of K–12 education topics, including parents’ schooling preferences, educational choice policies, and the federal government’s role in education. The survey also records response levels, differences, and intensities for citizens located across the country and in a variety of demographic groups.
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.
Competition: For the Children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.
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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