Regulations Threaten Choice

Regulations Threaten Choice
April 16, 2014

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)

School Choice Weekly #33

Some state lawmakers and the Obama administration have attacked school choice programs in Louisiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin from behind, through regulations. In a lawsuit brought by the Obama administration, a federal court has ruled Louisiana must supply the feds the name, address, race, and desired school of every child who wants a state voucher so federal bureaucrats can decide whether the applicant children are the right race to receive it. Yes, really.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed into law more regulations on voucher schools this week. One would require private schools to start sending the state far more information about students, including graduation rates, family income levels, enrollment numbers, and scores on annual state tests, and to submit to the state their annual budgets. These will usher private schools that accept vouchers into the state’s forthcoming annual report cards.

And Ohio lawmakers are working to close a “loophole”: voucher schools aren’t required to administer the same third-grade reading tests public schools are, nor are they required to hold students back if they fail the test. That’s not a loophole. It’s a feature.

The main reason public schools must submit to myriad state regulations is they are accountable not directly to parents but to taxpayers through their elected representatives and whatever bureaucracies have accumulated since states began. That’s why principals and superintendents can afford to ignore and anger parents--because parents can’t choose not to pay school administrators’ salaries.

Private schools function on a different kind of accountability, to families. If those schools fail to manage their money well, they will fold. Unlike school districts, private schools will not be perpetually bailed out by taxpayers. If private schools fail to educate children well, parents will know it quickly and can choose to send their kids elsewhere. In short, private schools have a built-in, natural accountability mechanism that public schools do not. This is why private schools do not need to be pushed into “accountability” schemes demanded and designed by people who oppose school choice.

Second, a central reason for establishing a school choice program at all is to offer parents access to education options outside the public school system. If choice programs instead absorb private schools into the public school system--where they test the same, teach the same, use money the same, and so forth--there is little reason to have a school choice program at all.

MORE INFORMATION: Associated Press, Columbus Dispatch.


School Choice Roundup

  • TENNESSEE: A school voucher proposal died for lack of votes. But it’s not the only viable school choice measure. This is the second year a Democratic state representative has joined a Republican state senator to file Parent Trigger legislation. This bill is unique in requiring parents who petition for school reforms to pledge their support for carrying out the reforms.

Common Core Watch

  • TENNESSEE: Lawmakers trying to make a deal on Common Core may delay it one year. Gov. Haslam has been resisting attempts to reject or alter the standards despite a significant House majority voting to do so last month.

Education Today

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)