BY: Grant Callen/Empower Mississippi 

School choice programs provide families with life-changing options in where they send their children to school. For a child in a failing school, being able to transfer to a new school can mean the difference between a child succeeding in life, pursuing his or her dreams or dropping out of school, and struggling to find work.

Many philosophical and moral arguments can be made to support school choice. One can argue that every kid has the right to a quality education and that helping kids leave failing schools is morally right. However, one of the best arguments is that is has a proven track record of success. And this argument has recently seen a major boost with the release of a research report by academics from the University of Arkansas that clearly shows the success of school choice programs worldwide.

This report is based on a “meta-analysis” – a study that examines all of the existing research and examines the overall findings – of the research literature on private school choice programs, including vouchers and tax credit scholarships, from around the world.

The report provides the most comprehensive survey of the school choice research literature ever undertaken. According to the authors, there have been at least 9,443 studies conducted on private school choice worldwide. Based on rigorous selection criteria, the authors narrowed the field to the 19 studies – representing 11 voucher programs – that used randomized controlled trial (RCT) methodology – the “gold standard” for research. Based on this worldwide set of studies, the authors find that students in a school choice program show “statistically significant” improvement in reading and mathematics and that these improvements increase over time.

Specifically, the reading scores for students in a school choice program increase by about 0.27 standard deviations and the math scores by about 0.15 standard deviations. This translates to the students in school choice programs enjoying the equivalent of several months of additional learning compared to students not in a school choice program.

The authors highlight that private school choice programs in varied forms have been implemented in countries ranging from the United States to Colombia and Chile and from the Netherlands and France to India. Unlike many current programs in the United States that restrict school choice to only some students, many countries – such as Belgium, Chile, Denmark, France, Sweden, and The Netherlands – extend school choice options to all children.

Some states in the United States are slowly beginning to implement this policy of providing universal eligibility for private school choice. For example, Nevada enacted universal school choice in 2015, the most expansive school choice program in the country.

Mississippi currently has three private school choice programs, all designed for students with special needs and all enacted in the past five years. This includes the Equal Opportunity for Students with Special Needs program, which is an education scholarship account for students with special needs, and vouchers for students with dyslexia and speech language therapy needs.

Throughout the world, private school choice programs vary in the amount of funding that they provide to parents for schooling and in the extent to which they are available to all families. However, despite the various forms that these programs take, this recent report clearly indicates that the policy of letting parents choose the best and most appropriate educational setting for their children has proven to be an international success and warrants greater consideration in Mississippi.

Grant Callen is the founder and President of Empower Mississippi. Previously, Grant served for seven years as Director of Development for the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.

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