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The Leaflet: School Choice Can Save Charter School Deserts

May 17, 2018

School choice creates competition. Competition improves education for both students in school choice programs and those enrolled in neighborhood public schools.

A new report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute details the prevalence of so-called “charter school deserts”—places where at least three contiguous census tracts display a poverty rate of at least 20 percent and in which there are no charters. Unfortunately, these charter school deserts are disproportionately located in high-poverty neighborhoods.

Currently, 41 states and the District of Columbia permit charter schools. However, only three of these states contain no charter school deserts. On average, states have 10.8 charter deserts—though a few states contain more than 20: Michigan, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas.

Historically, charter schools tend to exist in neighborhoods that are plagued by public schools that perform poorly. Data show charter schools attract higher percentages of black students and are located in metropolitan areas, underscoring the need for even more charter schools in low-income suburban and rural areas.

Far too often, states enact barriers and rules that prevent a robust environment for charter schools. Legislators should consider repealing regulations that make it difficult for charter schools to open and function. Furthermore, they ought to allocate public education funds to charter and public students at equal levels. Placing public and charter schools on an even playing field would create more competition and thus produce greater accountability and better academic outcomes for all students.

“For example, Illinois law limits the number of charter schools in the state to 120 and imposes a maximum of seventy-five charter schools in Chicago,” the authors wrote. “Rhode Island permits just thirty-five charter schools statewide, and Ohio mandates that charters open only in those school districts considered ‘challenged’ by the state. Such policies stifle the creation of schooling options in many places that need them.”

Since American students in public schools continue to perform poorly and lag far behind students in other countries in math and science, legislators should do everything they can to expand (not reduce) school choice options. In fact, a 2018 survey of likely voters conducted by the American Federation for Children shows nearly two-thirds of people favor school choice, with charter schools receiving more than 70 percent of support. Support is even stronger among African-Americans and Latinos.

In a new Research & Commentary, Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson concludes charter schools, vouchers, and education savings accounts are the best hope for many parents who desire that their children receive a high-quality education but are currently stuck in a failing school.

“While the policy solutions the authors put forward are all necessary and would be welcome, universal private school choice in the form of vouchers or education savings accounts would be preferable, as the gold-standard empirical evidence shows,” Benson wrote. “Still, charter schools should have their place. Nationally, they have provided a way out of failing traditional public schools for nearly three million children, and they provide competition for a bloated, sclerotic, unaccountable union-run public school system. This competition helps improve outcomes not just for the children who take advantage of school choice programs, but also for those who remain in their neighborhood public schools.”

Americans desire school choice, yet charter school deserts deny far too many parents the ability to quench their thirst to pursue the best educational option for their children.

 

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Health Care
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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 many parents face when trying to move their child from a school that is unsafe. Alger and Benson propose a Child Safety Account program, which would allow parents to immediately have their child transfer 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.

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Author
Arianna Wilkerson works in government relations at The Heartland Institute.
awilkerson@heartland.org