Op-Ed: Let’s Send Every Child to a Good School

by Rep. JR Hoell

According to the U.S. Department of Education, almost 27% of children  in America already have access to the school of their choice.  As recently as 2007 (the most recent year of available data from the National Center for Education Statistics), 16% of students attended a public school other than the assigned school in their district, 9% went to faith-oriented private schools while the remaining 3% went to  private secular schools.   The numbers listed above do not include the 3% that are home-schooled, an additional form of school choice.

Clearly, parents want to be involved in the selection of the school for their children.  In fact, there is a growing percentage of families that choose to relocate to a new neighborhood or town so their child can attend a particular school.  If parents are willing to pick up and move for a better school, then clearly our system of rigid geographic school districts is failing and a new system based on school choice needs to be implemented.

As student test results indicate, parents, on the average, do a better job of making educational choices for their children than bureaucracies do, which is yet another reason  the expansion of school choice. The real question is, “Can we afford to let more children have school choice?” or “Can a system be put in place to still support the public schools while allowing parents to have this choice?”   Actually, a well implemented school choice program saves the state money, without down shifting the cost to the local school districts.

According to the New Hampshire Deptartment of Education, in 2009 we spent $14,549 per pupil.  This amount is well above theU.S.national average.  However, there are many private secular schools inNew Hampshirethat according to test scores provide a better education at a much lower cost.   For example in grades 1-8:MonadnockWaldorfSchoolcosts $10,000, theWellSchoolinPeterboroughcosts only $8,800 and thePineHillWaldorfSchoolinWiltonis $12,160.

Faith-based schools are also affordable. For example, St. Joseph Regional inKeenecharges $5,753 andTrinityChristianAcademyinPeterboroughcharges less than $3,400 per year.

So there is no budgetary excuse to shortchange our children. Even if every parent in the state sent their child to private school–which is unlikely–at taxpayer expense, it would save money. Better quality education can be achieved at lower cost.

Are private school children and home schoolers somehow missing out on education quality?  Far from it. According to a 2009 survey of 15 year olds from 34 industrialized countries,  U.S. students placed 25th out of the 34 of Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in math and only at average for reading.  Furthermore, only 77.5% of U.S. students graduate from high school. The standard being set by the current public school system is not very impressive.

Naively pouring more money into public schools without choice doesn’t improve performance either. TheWashingtonD.C.school district spent an astounding $28,170 per pupil in 2009. The D.C. graduation rates and test scores were far worse than the national average.

However, according to a recent study, a school-voucher program in D.C. achieved a graduation rate of 91%, compared to the public school average of 56%. The Washington Post editorial board supported the $7,500 per year voucher program. Even under the harshest inner-city conditions, with many single parents under high stress, educational choice works.

So what can we do to give more children access to educational choice inNew Hampshire?

The first step toward increasing educational options is to create an education tax credit that encourages businesses to give money toward educational scholarship foundations.  These foundations then create scholarships for children to go to the school of their choice.  This will give more parents the ability to choose a private school.  At the same time, it will reduce the financial burden on towns, and reduce class sizes in taxpayer-funded public schools. All schools would improve, both from competition and from decreases in public school class size.

Competition drives innovation and experimentation. Just as in any other field, the absence of competition leads to stagnation and failure. Letting parents, rather than politicians, choose where to spend their children’s tuition money will build a world where every child goes to a good school.

Rep. JR Hoell, of Dunbarton, sits on the House Education Committee.