Funding follows students to religious school, if that's parents' choice
Empowered with a $7,000-per-child "backpack of cash," Arizona parents can choose an educational program -- including a religious private school, writes Robert Pondiscio. Are there seats for all those students? There will be.
Arizona’s most successful charter school operator, Great Hearts Academies, will partner with churches to create "a network of private Christian academies aimed at low- and middle-income families, with tuition paid almost entirely" with state-funded "empowerment scholarships," he writes.
The state "has earned a reputation as education’s policy’s 'Wild West,' a label often invoked derisively, but one that has been embraced affectionately by choice and charter school proponents," he writes. But Arizona isn't alone.
Under a bill signed this week by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, any Iowa family will be able to use taxpayer funds to pay for private school tuition within three years. "For the first time, we will fund students instead of a system, a decisive step in ensuring that every child in Iowa can receive the best education possible," said Reynolds. "Parents, not the government, can now choose the education setting best suited to their child regardless of their income or zip code."
Oklahoma's attorney general has cleared the way for religious charter schools in a recent legal opinion, writes Pondiscio. "Courts in West Virginia have refused to block a school choice program nearly identical to Arizona’s."
The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to religious charter charter schools in June, writes Nicole Stelle Garnett in Education Next. It held that Maine's private-school-choice program, designed for students in rural districts without public high schools, can't discriminate against religious schools.
Colleen Hroncich has more on legal rulings on school choice on Cato @ Liberty.
Great Hearts, which hopes to open three new schools in the Phoenix area by August, has an excellent reputation in Arizona, Pondiscio writes. Eighteen of its 21 classical-education schools earned an A rating on the state's accountability system.
Faith-based schools tend to work well for disadvantaged families, he adds.
William Jeynes, a professor of education at Cal State-Long Beach and one of the nation’s leading researchers on the influence of religious schools, estimates that “just attending a faith-based school, whether a student is religious or not reduces the achievement gap [between white students and students of color] by 25 percent. Just as a matter of objectivity, shouldn’t we be doing more of this if we want the achievement gap to go down?” he said.
"Urban Catholic schools have a long and noble record of helping to lift students out of poverty," writes Garnett in City Journal. "Catholic school students, controlling for a range of predictive demographic factors, are more likely to finish high school, attend college and graduate, maintain steady employment, and earn higher wages than similar students attending other types of schools."
Catholic schools have struggled to compete with tuition-free charters. ESAs could be even the playing field.
"The vast majority of students still attend a zoned, district-run public school and likely will for the foreseeable future," Pondiscio writes. However, in time, "low-cost private schools based in families’ church communities could pose a significant challenge to traditional public schools."