Wednesday, January 31, 2007

School Choices VI: A Brief History of Choice

With the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, school choice was made a part of federal law, available to every child in every state. According to the Department of Education's NCLB website, school choice helps everyone:

…parents with children in schools that fail to meet state standards for at least two consecutive years may transfer their children to a better-performing public school, including a public charter school, within their district. If they do so, the district must provide transportation, using Title I funds if necessary. Students from low-income families in schools that fail to meet state standards for at least three years are eligible to receive supplemental educational services-including tutoring, after-school services, and summer school. In addition, the NCLB Act provides increased support to parents, educators, and communities to create new charter schools. The act also provides students the choice to attend a safe school within their district if they attend persistently dangerous schools or are the victim of a violent crime while in their school.

However, the school choice revolution did not begin in Washington, but in several experimental programs nationwide. Minnesota was the first state to introduce inter-district open enrollment, which, among other things, provided for families to claim up to $1000 in school expenses, including private school tuition. Massachusetts introduced a controlled choice plan in the 1980s, though that effort was less concerned with educational quality than it was about racial and ethnic diversity. The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), the nation's first pilot voucher choice plan, was a limited intersectional voucher plan for the Milwaukee School District. Implemented in 1990, MPCP permits selected students to receive public monies to go to any nonsectarian private school of their selection. The plan is expressly intended to allow low-income families admission to private or alternative educational opportunities. The cash worth of the voucher is typically equivalent to the state per pupil expenditure on public schooling. It has since been expanded to include sectarian private schools. (in Peter W., Jr. Cookson, Sonali M. Shroff, “Recent Experience with Urban School Choice Plans,” ERIC/CUE Digest Number 127, October 1997)

According to the Heritage Foundation, an unambiguously pro-school choice organization, 15 states have either inter- or intra-district choice programs approved. Only 6 states have tuition tax credits and 7 have publicly funded voucher programs statewide or in selected areas.

However, not all school choice and voucher proposals have succeeded in becoming policy. According to the National Education Association, a decidedly anti-voucher organization, no ballot measure has passed the approval of voters for the past thirty years. Voters in Maryland, Michigan (twice), Colorado, California (twice), and Washington have all rejected, with the exception of Maryland, by super-majorities attempts to pass voucher proposals.

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