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U.S. Politics

Charters Enticing Private School Families

A recent report from the Cato Institute highlights a different type of competition fostered by school choice: public versus private. As Adam Schaeffer discusses in the report, charter schools, since they are government subsidized, are enticing parents away from the private education sector and back into the public school system. This increases the number of students on the education rolls and thereby leads to increased taxpayer costs. “We [Schaeffer and Richard Buddin] estimate that charter schools took approximately 190,000 students from private schools between 2000 and 2008,” writes Schaeffer. “These students required an additional $1.8 billion in annual public expenditures.”

“The estimates in our report suggest that around 80,000 Catholic students have transferred into charter schools, representing about 27 percent of the total decline in Catholic enrollment between 2002 and 2007.”  In other words, about 50% of those students who transferred back into the public education system via charters came from Catholic schools.

The LA Times considers this a positive development.” For years, urban public school systems such as the Los Angeles Unified School District have tried, with limited success, to lure private school families as a way of bringing in more enrollment and resources,” states the editorial. “The state funds public schools largely on the basis of how many students attend, so higher enrollment means more money for school districts.” In other words,  this process provides more taxpayer dollars for the school district.

“And private school parents tend to have more education and more money that they might use to help out at their schools, helping all students there,” continues the editorial. “They might also become involved in lobbying for more funding for education, which would be good for public schools and charters alike.”

The linked video, provided by Reason.tv, shows the iron triangle between government, teachers unions, and teachers. As tuition dollars go up, reading, math, or other proficiency scores remain level, the video highlights.

Highly urban areas are particularly effected by this private school flight, according to Schaeffer. “Buddin found that charters serving primary students in highly urban districts take almost one third of their students from private schools, on average,” writes Schaeffer (emphasis in original). He argues that “The ‘government option’ in education should never be subsidized to the point where private provision of the service becomes untenable for all but the wealthiest and most specialized purposes.”

Educational tax credits, Schaeffer argues, have the potential to keep school choice a diverse concept and make private education a viable option for parents. “Education tax credits reduce the amount a taxpayer owes the government for each dollar he spends on his own child’s education or on scholarships for other children who need them,” he writes. Currently, private schools face an uphill battle, he argues. “Private schools must convince parents to pay significant sums out of pocket instead of utilizing free public schools, which are paid for in part with their own tax dollars and further subsidized by taxpayers without children,” writes Schaeffer.

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