Some say school choice programs cherry pick the best students, but is that true? Let’s take a look at the data.

Forty-three states and the District of Columbia authorize charter schools. These independent public schools cannot, by law, selectively enroll students according to performance or grades. They must be open to students of all abilities. Charter schools must also abide by the Civil Rights Act which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin. They are required to administer state assessments and adhere to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

According to national data, charter schools enroll a higher percentage of low-income students than do district-run schools. In Colorado, charter schools serve a higher percentage of minority students.

Charter schools often draw struggling students who are not flourishing in their traditional public school. Because charter schools can adopt their own instructional design and focus, they can offer unique learning environments such a back-to-basics or project-based learning approach, a longer school day, or other programs to help students catch up.

What about other school choice programs?

Twenty-eight states offer scholarships, tax credits/deductions, or education savings accounts for parents who choose private schools. Many of these state programs were created to serve students with disabilities or low-income students. Students from wealthy families are excluded.

Studies have shown that parents of struggling students are more likely to seek out school vouchers than parents whose children are thriving in school.

Private school vouchers may even hold the key to greater racial integration. Nine of 10 empirical studies on school choice and racial integration found students move from more highly segregated schools to less segregated school when school choice is available. (The tenth study found no impact.) This is not surprising: scholarships enable low income and minority students to attend schools that were previously unaffordable by their parents.

That’s what school choice programs do: they give the students option to attend a public or private school that better meets their needs. If anyone is cherry picking, it’s families and students, not the schools themselves.

What are your thoughts?

Should the government restrict or expand education options for families?

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Update: This article originally stated that 40 states have a charter school law. The current number is 43.

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