Phi Beta Cons

Re: School Choice vs. Instructivism

Stern’s article has faced a variety of criticisms that ably deconstruct his arguments, and he has yet to address the most important and damaging of these.

But the primary problem is the general imprecision of the essay. The title, for instance, is “School Choice Isn’t Enough,” but Stern writes only about vouchers and incentive reforms within public schools — and then within vouchers, only considers those that target poor children. Stern calls himself a reporter, but a reporter should, at the very least, discuss the issue carefully and present the facts and context necessary for a reader to understand the subject.
There are, for instance, 21 programs in 13 states that allow students to choose private schools with the support of public vouchers or tax incentives. Most of these were passed in the last ten years. Just counting recently passed state programs, close to $700,000,000 is used to help more than 700,000 children attend a school of choice.
Eleven of these programs, in eight states, use vouchers, and of them Stern mentions only Milwaukee and Cleveland (he also mentions the non-state District of Columbia voucher program). The ones in Maine and Vermont were passed more than 100 years ago, but even counting only modern state programs, vouchers help around 47,000 children attend schools of their choice with over $275 million. These programs help those who need it most, almost 27,000 children in low-income families or failing schools and 20,000 children with special needs.
The other ten programs, in seven states, use education tax credits or deductions, and Stern ignores them entirely. These benefit more than 650,000 children with more than $400 million; five of those programs target low-income families and help 93,000 children attend schools of their choice.
Before dismissing the promise of school choice, Stern would do well to grapple with these numbers.
Stern is left with arguments no more remarkable than that school choice reform is politically difficult and the Milwaukee voucher program is not as large, free, or effective a market as one would wish.
Stern surely knew that his article would be used as a weapon against school choice, and indeed it has been taken up as a bludgeon by the government school minions. And yet he rashly dismisses school choice and vouchers in a haze of confusion, imprecision, and inaccuracies. The article is irresponsible.

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