Illinois Loop
Your guide to education in Illinois
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The Illinois Loop website is no longer updated on a a regular basis. However, since many of the links and articles have content and perspectives that are just as valid today, we are keeping this website online for parents, teachers and others researching school issues and solutions.
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Parent Choice

Different Paths to Better Schools

    People working for education reform generally can be divided into these two views:

    1. Those who feel it is possible to turn around a school district so as to commit to high academic standards, research-based teaching methods, and curriculum-centered programs.
    2. Those who feel that the bureaucracy behind theory-based, student-centered schools is too entrenched and widespread for real reform, and that the only avenue for improvement is parent choice and marketplace dynamics.

    The Illinois Loop does not specifically endorse either point of view, and "loopers" include good folks representing both positions. This is a reasonable balance, since most of the "work within the system" people feel that if that doesn't work, choice is the next step, and most of the pro-choice people feel that they'd be happier if there were at least some public schools in their areas that offered strong academic programs.

    The late Al Shankar, president of the Americn Federation of Teachers, was well aware that the diminishing quality of government schools would inevitably lead to demands for parent choice:

    "I think that we will get -- and deserve -- the end of public education through some sort of privatization scheme if we don't behave differently. Unfortunately, very few people believe that yet. They talk about it, and they don't like it, but they're not ready to change and stop doing the things that brought them to this point."
    -- AFT President Al Shanker, at a Pew Forum, Whistler, British Columbia, August 1993
    When public schools fail to offer what parents want, parents look for other choices. As one mother wrote to us,
    Until public education gets the message that they are NOT helping children learn how to think and write reasonably well so they can express themselves and be understood, I cannot avail myself of the "free" public education for my children ... it just costs too much.

Is a Government Bureaucracy Necessary?

    From the BBC television series Yes Minister, in an episode called "National Education Service", January 21, 1988:

Why Parent Choice?

  • There is No Choice But School Choice by Paul Vallas, former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, November 2021.
    "By many measures Chicago is a city in decline. And the most critical factor is the chronically underperforming and rapidly shrinking Chicago Public School system. And the sooner our political leaders admit this and muster the courage to do something about it, the faster the city will have a chance to address its chronic problems and reverse its decades-long decline. I don't come to this conclusion lightly. As many reading this know, I've spent my career as an educator, running the Chicago Public Schools and other large public systems. And I know how to read a budget. Maintaining the system in its current state does satisfy the political constituents and the special interests. But does it satisfy the needs of students, parents and the city? No! It is obvious that now, that the system needs real change. And school choice -- in which the funding is provided directly to parents to use in the school of their choice, whether public or private -- is that change. It is long overdue. And the evidence leaves us no other option."

  • Here's the case for parent choice, in a short excerpt from the ABC News special Stupid in America: How We Cheat Our Kids, January 13, 2006, narrated by John Stossel:

History of Parent Choice in America

  • Fact Sheet on Education in Illinois, Heartland Foundation:
    For a comprehensive roundup of stats on education in Illinois, as well as recent news and developments regarding charters and parent choice in Illinois, see this page from the Heritage Foundation.

  • School Choice: 2006 Progress Report by Dan Lips and Evan Feinberg, Heritage Foundation, September 18, 2006. Excerpt: "Just a decade ago, only a few school choice programs existed. Today, a dozen states and the District of Columbia have private school choice programs. In 2006, eight states -- Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, and Wisconsin -- enacted new school choice programs or expanded existing programs. By 2007, as many as 150,000 students will be participating in publicly funded tuition scholarship programs. As of August 2006:
    • Seven states -- Arizona, Florida, Maine, Ohio, Vermont, Utah, and Wisconsin -- and the District of Columbia have taxpayer-funded scholarships to help students attend private elementary or secondary schools of choice;
    • Seven states -- Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island -- have tax credits or deductions for education expenses, including private school tuition, or incentives for contributions to scholarship programs;
    • Forty states and the District of Columbia have charter school laws;
    • Public school choice within or between districts is guaranteed in 15 states ..."

  • Gallows Humor by Paul Jacob, September 17, 2006. "For years American proponents of school choice struggled with competing interpretations of the First Amendment. The establishment clause could be construed to prohibit the granting to students and parents money that could be spent on religious schools. Separation of church and state, you see. After years of debate, in 2002 the Rehnquist court, in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, wisely settled the matter. The court saw that with school vouchers there was no establishment of any one denomination over another, or any religion over any other -- or none -- since the monies were distributed entirely through the choices of citizens. Citizens could change their mind, and it was their choices that directed where the money went. No problem. Case, as they say, closed."

  • School Choice and the Courts by David W. Kirkpatrick. Excerpt:
       "Once upon a time, it was common for schools in the United States to be operated by religious or other groups and to receive funding from the government. That chapter in American history was gradually rewritten, so that by the 20th century the practice had largely died out and newly-discovered constitutional restrictions on such aid had been put in place."
       This article goes on to dissect a series of Supreme Court decisions through the 20th century that confirmed the supremacy of parents in making education decisions about their children.

  • What "Wall"? by David W. Kirkpatrick. The notion of a "wall of separation between church and state" lies at the root of much opposition to the right of parents to decide where to send their own children to school. As is his specialty, David W. Kirkpatrick gives some perspective on this. Excerpts:
       "Whatever one's view about a 'wall,' in the 215 years since the Constitution was adopted no Supreme Court has ever found a general student-aid program to be unconstitutional. Thus a voucher 'brick' was not removed, because it wasn't there. It was a figment of the opponents' rhetorical imagination. ...
       "The 'wall' comment originated in a January 1801 letter by Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Connecticut Baptist Association after he had been elected president but before he took office. Jefferson was not at the constitutional convention of 1787, he was in France. Neither his phrase nor the individual words 'wall,' 'separation,' or 'church,' appear in the constitution, and a remark in a personal letter by a president-elect, even Thomas Jefferson, has no legal standing."

  • A Pierce-ing Supreme Court Decision by David W. Kirkpatrick. Excerpt: "June 1 is the anniversary date of one of the most fundamental decisions ever rendered by the U.S. Supreme Court in its more than 200 year history. That was Pierce vs. Society of Sisters that declared parents 'have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare' their children for additional obligations. The 9-0 decision not only remains the law of the land but has never been challenged and is not likely to be."

  • Thomas Jefferson - Icon or Iconoclast? by David W. Kirkpatrick: "Few voices from the American past are cited more frequently by the public school establishment as being one of their own than that of Thomas Jefferson. ... One advantage of interpreting those no longer with us is that ... it is possible to pretend they said what we would like them to have said rather than what they actually did say. Let's review some things Jefferson actually said."

  • In The Rights of Man, Thomas Paine proposed a plan of universal education using direct payments to parents, who would use these funds to pay for their children's education. Read a short excerpt, or a longer section.

Blaine Amendments

    A full understanding of the legal status of parent choice needs to include the history of the "Blaine Amendments." In the first century of this country's existence, schools were operated by a variety of organizations, including religious ones. But by the 1870s, a wave of immigration from predominanently Catholic countries sparked a hateful backlash.

    Full-page Anti-Catholic cartoon in Harper's Weekly, September 30, 1871

     Thomas Nast cartoon of James Blaine,
    Harper's Weekly, June 5, 1880
    Against this backdrop, James G. Blaine, an anti-Catholic bigot and Speaker of the House, proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ban funding of schools that were operated by "sectarian" religious entities. In other words, it was perfectly fine to give public funding to a school that taught generalized (i.e., non-sectarian) Protestant Christian beliefs, but funding for a school run by any Catholic organization was to be outlawed. Blaine eventually ran for president after being nominated at a convention that railed against "rum, Romanism and rebellion." (Interestingly, he lost the election by losing a single state, New York, by a margin of only 1,047 votes.)

    Blaine and his ilk never did succeed in getting his hate-filled amendment added to the federal constitution. However, the language of the Blaine Amendment was added to many state constitutions, including that of the state of Illinois. It is for that reason that state funding of private schools is rare in this country, although it is commonplace around the world.

    To really understand the history and political situation of religious schools, and in many cases of private schools in general, and obstacles to child-centered funding, you have to start by learning about the "Blaine amendments."

    In Chicago, there is a James G. Blaine School, at 1420 W. Grace Street, and in Peoria, there is a Blaine Sumner Middle School. It's hard to imagine that in this day and age there still exist schools named in honor of a vicious bigot!

Thinking About Parent Choice

  • Editorial cartoonist Eric Allie's view of Gov. Blagojevich's attack on the ISBE: "If you seek progress, tear down this wall." Yes, but what is the real wall? Click to see!

  • ABCs of School Choice (PDF), The Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation: Here's an extremely attractive and thorough introduction to parent choice issues, covering the possible alternatives, terminology, legal issues, financial issues and current status.

  • School Choice Mythbusters: A very well-written and attractively formatted guide to concerns about parent choice, prepared by the Organization for Quality Education in Canada.

  • If The World Were Like the Public Education System by Kevin Killion. What if our current system for public education served as a model to re-design our food stores? Our highway system? Computers? Soccer leagues? Car delearships? Find out here!

  • Real Change Requires Real Competition and Real Choice by Chuck Muth, Nevada Appeal, March 21, 2008. "Have you ever noticed an intersection where there's a McDonald's on one corner and a Burger King on another? Or an Exxon station located directly across the street from a Chevron station? Or a Holiday Inn a block up the street from a Hampton Inn? Do you ever wonder why that is? I mean, why don't these businesses just operate like our government schools: only one per neighborhood? Because competition works. It improves service. It lowers prices for consumers. And it winnows out bad operators. Public schools, on the other hand, don't like competition. In fact, they're scared to death of it. Ever wonder why that is?"

  • "The reason so many charter schools sprouted in Arizona so quickly is that, once again, we bypassed the school districts. The early charter movement floundered a decade ago because most states forced schools to obtain charters from local school boards. No surprise that charters weren't springing up fast: this would be like Burger King asking for permission to sell Whoppers in the local McDonald's. There's just not going to be any enthusiasm to help out the competition."
    -- Lisa Graham Keegan, former Superintendent of Public Instruction, State of Arizona

  • Renew Illinois Foundation Announces Education Reform Plan: Excerpt: "Illinois taxpayers have greatly increased funding for government run schools during the past several decades, yet 80 percent of our school districts operate with their budgets in deficit. According to studies by the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, two-thirds of all Illinois students can't read at their grade level, three quarters can't write proficiently, and three quarters are below proficiency in civics. Only 50 percent of students graduate from high school in Chicago."

  • Brown Decision Misses the Point, letter by our own Dave Ziffer, Daily Herald, May 23, 2004. Excerpts:
      "On the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, we are engaging in a media orgy of recollection, while ironically acknowledging that the decision doesn't seem to have accomplished much educationally. ...
      "While the majority of us provide more than 99 percent of public school financing, we have little say in the operation of the schools because our funding is unconditionally guaranteed by the states, and consequently, we have no leverage. Meanwhile, a small handful of extremely radical educational demagogues controls our curriculum and our school policy through the application of a relatively small amount of foundation- and union-supplied conditional funding, to which the schools respond all too readily.
      "Why parents aren't rioting in the streets over this is beyond me. Until we move to some rational funding solution (such as vouchers) that frees us from the dictatorial powers of the public school system, which can still tell almost all of us exactly where our kids will go to school whether we like it or not, the celebration of the Brown decision will continue to ring hollow."

  • Separating School and State by Jeff Jacoby, Columnist, Boston Globe, June 12, 2005. Excerpts: "Once there was a solid consensus about how public schools should be run. ... But as [recent] battles ... make clear, that day is past. From issues of sexuality and religion to the broad themes of US history and politics, public opinion is fractured. Secular parents square off against believers, supporters of homosexual marriage against traditionalists, those stressing 'safe sex' against those who emphasize abstinence. Each wants its views reflected in the classroom. No longer is there a common understanding of the mission of public education. To the extent that one camp's vision prevails, parents in the opposing camp are embittered. And there is no prospect that this will change -- not as long as the government remains in charge of educating American children. Which is why it's time to put an end to government control of the schools."

  • All Schools Are Public Schools: A case for state aid to private education and homeschooling parents by Jason Boffetti. From the forward: "Training good citizens is the public purpose all schools serve, whether we call them public or private. We have been mired for too long in a sterile debate about which schools will benefit from reform proposals. Boffetti recasts the debate so that it focuses on its proper goal: children. If we truly want the best for them, and ultimately for our nation, we will help parents choose the best education currently available from whatever source."

  • The School Choice Movement's Greatest Failure by Andrew J. Coulson, Cato Institute, July 16, 2006. This is a valuable, thoughtful article on the role of parent choice, and how choice programs should best be considered. The author takes a close look at recent studies on voucher programs, and finds them off-the-mark in evaluating what really matters.

  • An excellent list of sources and links on school choice is available at the School Choice Research Center of the Institute for Justice.

  • Texas: Proposed Model Legislation for Child-Centered Education Funding, Texas Justice Foundation. A model bill drafted by staff of the Texas Justice Foundation to allow state education funds to "follow the child".

  • School Choice Issue Suite: Model Legislation, Research, Commentary, and More compiled by The Heartland Institute. There is a tremendous amount of information on school choice carried by this website, or provided via additional links. There are large sections on research and policy positions on choice, as well as extensive information on model legislation and avenues for working for choice.

  • The Heartland Plan for Illinois, Model School Choice Legislation, Heartland Institute, Heartland Policy Study No. 98, May 2002. Opinion polls indicate that significant majorities of the American public support allowing parents to choose the schools their children attend without financial penalty. With a major U.S. Supreme Court decision on school vouchers expected in the summer of 2002, now is a good time to ask what an ideal voucher program would look like. This detailed analysis from the Heartland Institute is available here:

  • Articles about Milwaukee's program of parent choice:

  • Parents Demand Schools That Work by James P. Lucier, Insight Magazine, September 19, 2003

  • Progress on School Choice in the States by Krista Kafer, The Heritage Foundation, July 10, 2003: available in an executive summary, or in full text.

  • I Can Tell You: School Choice Works by Greg Forster, July 28, 2005. "The biggest difficulty for defenders of the government's school monopoly is the overwhelming consensus in the empirical research finding that school choice works. They deal with this little problem primarily by ignoring the evidence and changing the subject, but it also helps that they have a stable of professors ready to distort, confuse, and obfuscate the research."

  • School Choice and Adolescence in America by Michael Strong, May 08, 2006.
         "[In] the 1980s Brookings Institution researchers John Chubb and Terry Moe ... looked carefully at public and private schools and concluded that, in fact, [Milton] Friedman had been correct: the private sector was more efficient and innovative than the bureaucratic government-managed sector. Despite their liberal Brookings base, they broke ranks with the Democrats and advocated school vouchers in their 1990 book, Politics, Markets, and America's Schools. ...
         "Adolescence in America is largely a disaster. [One writer says,] 'If one had set out to create a culture purposefully damaging to children, you couldn't do much better than America at the end of the 20th century.' [Another] states, 'All parents feel an ominous sense -- like distant rumbles of thunder moving closer and closer -- that even their child could be caught in the deluge of adolescent dysfunction sweeping the nation.' ...
         "Parents, choosing among educational entrepreneurs, could solve the problem of adolescent health far more quickly and more effectively than can academics trying to guide public policy."

  • The Neutrality Principle: Can states prohibit vouchers for religious schooling? by James E. Ryan, Education Next, Fall 2003.

  • International Law on Parental Choice in Education, Federation of Independent School Associations

  • The Illinois Supreme Court heard a case ( Wickham vs. Byrne, Docket Nos. 92048) in which grandparents whose married child had died were now seeking visitation rights with their grandchildren, over the objections of the surviving spouse. Part of the court's ruling may have implications for future school choice cases. The Illinois Supreme Court ruled, "a fit parent's constitutionally protected liberty interest to direct the care, custody, and control of his or her children mandates that parents -- not judges -- should be the ones to decide with whom their children will and will not associate."

  • U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige speech to the national conference of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), February 28, 2002. Excerpt: "While America enjoys a voyage of choice and freedom, our education system missed the boat. It's surprising that a country that says it values education hasn't powered it up with the energy of choice. But it's not just a surprise. It's a disgrace. ... Giving parents greater choices and kids more chances does not hurt public education, it strengthens it. It brings us closer to equality."

  • Graduation Wish by Lisa Graham Keegan. Excerpt: "One of the most compelling discussions of my life occurred in a small alternative school located deep in the inner city. I was speaking with a student's mother when ... she asked me what I look for in a school. I spoke of high academic expectations, respect for my children, and a positive school atmosphere. Summed it up, I thought. Her response floored me. She told me that she wanted her son, Chopper, to be alive at the end of high school. Period.

  • An Unfair Grade for Vouchers by Jay P. Greene, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. "Some people dwell on emptiness even in glasses that are three-quarters full. That's how it is with assessments of the research on school choice. Although the research supporting school-voucher programs has greater breadth and depth than research on almost any other education policy, opponents of choice continue to chant their mantra that the results are mixed and inconclusive. ... if one steps back from each particular feud and sees the consistently positive results and the absence of any negative results from voucher research, an honest assessment would note the remarkable strength in the evidence supporting vouchers. There's at least enough encouraging evidence to support trying another pilot program, like the one being proposed in Washington, D.C."

  • Protectionism Doesn't Serve Schools Well by Amity Shlaes, Financial Times, March 9, 2004. Excerpt:
    "[There is] too much protectionism in a specific U.S. industry: education. ... The problem lies with workaday publicly funded schools, especially in urban areas.
    "These are the factories that produce the national workforce. Yet, for the past quarter-century, they have had little competition and have enjoyed a lack of scrutiny. The result has been predictable. Schools have blithely accepted increasing inputs--namely, funding--even as the quality of their output has decreased, to the point where students cannot handle Excel spreadsheets, or learn to, and cannot locate Indonesia or even adopt a polite telephone manner. Most of the time, the education sector has disguised its failings with a trick so dirty other sectors would not even try it: the open doctoring of industry standards--in this case, the measures used to assess the quality of U.S. schooling. ...
    "Of course, most Americans do not consider the education industry to be protected, or even an industry. They think about schools with the softer part of their brain that deals with home, pride and community. Still, applying a cold trade analysis to schools goes a long way toward explaining those [international comparisons] ...
    "The first protectionist feature of the U.S. education business is the most obvious: Public schools are a monopoly. ...
    "Unions--another feature typical of protectionism--are one reason for the delay in expanding choice. School unions are large--the National Education Association, the biggest, has 2.7 million members. They funnel millions to politicians, who in turn sustain the public schools' monopoly by failing to pass reforms to open the market."

  • Four Reasons Why The Childless Need School Choice, March 29, 2005. A thought-compelling essay arguing why those without children have strong interests at stake in school choice.

  • The Politics of Choice: Where are School Choice's Friends? (PDF) by Charles J. Sykes, Wisconsin Interest, 2004, Vol. 13 No. 2

  • School Choice Misinformation: Why Good Journalism Matters (PDF) by Susan Mitchell, Wisconsin Interest, 2003, Vol. 12 No. 2

  • Lies and Distortions About Choice: Setting the Record Straight (PDF) by Howard Fuller and Kaleem Caire, Wisconsin Interest, 2001, Vol. 10 No. 3

  • Between Scylla and Charybdis: The Challenges Ahead for Parental School Choice (PDF) by Daniel M. McKinley, Wisconsin Interest, 1998, Vol. 7 No. 2

    Needless Conflicts

  • Much of the anger over school issues is a direct consequence of bureaucrats telling families that all children in this area must go to this school and all children in that area must go to that school. That means that each school must try to please all of the parents whose children it serves, despite their widely different needs and goals. For more on that, see our page on Needless Conflicts.

Parent Choice vs NCLB

  • The Crash of Top-Down Reform? by John E. Chubb, August 4-11, 2003. "If school reform comes in waves, the latest, and some would say greatest, wave of reform may have just crested. The idea that public education can be reformed by setting high standards and holding schools accountable for reaching them is showing unmistakable signs of crashing. Public education is finding ways to comply with accountability standards without really improving. ... Before standards and accountability come crashing down altogether, policymakers should remember that there is another wave of reform that has also been sweeping the nation ... school choice. Give families the right and the means to choose for their children schools that are achieving -- other traditional public schools, new public charter schools, even private schools -- and force schools to compete for their students. Parents will select schools that meet high standards. Schools that try to skirt standards will not be chosen and will be driven out of business. Through school choice, the nation might ride the accountability wave to higher standards and scores.

  • Accountable Schools are Accountable to Parents by Krista Kafer. "Everyone wants schools to be accountable. The question is to whom should they be accountable--the government or the parents. President Bush's original plan to reform the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) required schools to be accountable to both. To gauge school quality, the plan required yearly testing of all students in third through eighth grades in reading and math. Schools that perpetually failed to raise achievement faced administrative penalties and poor students would be given a chance to go to another school, public or private. The plan emphasized accountability through government regulation and accountability through parent choice. By the end of the legislative process, regulation won out as the favored method of accountability. The No Child Left Behind Act contained only a withered version of choice--students in failing schools could attend other public schools in the district or purchase tutorial help. While parents would be guaranteed information on their schools through the law's testing and reporting provisions, they would be given little help to act upon it."

  • The Education Revolution America Needs by Eugene Hickok, Washington Post, October 27, 2006 "Even if Secretary Spellings were right that NCLB is 99.9% pure, it still would not be the formula for what ails American education. ... NCLB is simply not up to the task. ... The deeper problem is the existing institutional architecture of American public education. No Child Left Behind erects an accountability system atop the status quo ... But public education governance, structure, finance, management and politics remain intact. ... The root of the problem isn't in the law; it's in the American education system. It can't get there from here. Today's public education system essentially tells parents: 'This is the school your child will attend. This is when we teach, what we teach and who will teach.' In short, it puts the system ahead of the child. We need an education environment that listens and responds when a parent says: 'This is my child; these are my hopes and dreams for my child, his needs and interests, his strengths and weaknesses. Why should I entrust my child to your care?' We need educational opportunities that put the child first. ... Newly minted accountability systems have school administrators gagging and leave too many parents confused, resulting in too many failing to take responsibility for the future of our children. As for ownership, our public schools have become institutions of government, serving bureaucracies rather than the public. It's as though the system owns us rather than we owning the system. ... [I]t would be a mistake to think that No Child Left Behind delivers the education system we need. At best, it will help us understand just how far we have to go, fueling our frustrations and disappointments along the way. NCLB is a wake-up call. What's needed is an American education revolution."

    Also see this page:
       Illinois Loop: No Child Left Behind

You Only Have Choice If a Choice Exists

  • The Supply Side of Educational Choice: Providing Capital for Successful Private and Parochial Schools (PDF) by Martin Sweet, WPRI Report, December 2003 (Vol. 16 No. 9). "What has been lacking, however, is an examination of the 'supply side' of school choice. How do successful private and parochial schools expand their infrastructure to meet the demands of a rising number of students desperate to escape a public school system that doesn't work?"

  • Traditional Schools, Progressive Schools: Do Parents Have A Choice? by Dr. Louis Chandler. This extremely valuable and unique research study on the educational direction of public and Catholic schools was conducted by Louis Chandler, Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Education, University of Pittsburgh. It's a carefully designed, richly detailed, and extremely compelling study on the actual educational practices of 336 public, Catholic, and independent schools in Ohio. The conclusions are real eye-openers.

"Boundary Hopping":
The Black Market in School Choice

    "Right now, the quality of your children's education depends on your address"
    -- Tom Zafiratos, Superintendent, District 79 (Pennoyer) in Norridge, IL

    "These people need to go where they're supposed to go."
    -- Beverley Clark, Wake County school board, North Carolina

    "Experts say there are many reasons why parents might give the wrong address to get into a school district. They could be looking for the best schools for their children or for a particular program they cannot get back in their home district."
    -- Illinois Association of School Boards,
    October 2008

  • School Districts Get Tough by Amy Merrick and Joe Barrett, Wall Street Journal, May 21, 2008. "Some school districts, hoping to control costs and prevent overcrowding, are intensifying efforts to make sure students actually live where they are registered. ... William Beitler, a private investigator specializing in address verification for school districts in the Chicago area ... says he has contracts with 32 districts, up from 23 last year, and his caseload has increased to 7,000 from 3,000. He claims he will save districts a total of $12.2 million next year through removing students."

  • William Beitler's National Investigations: "We service over fifty (50) school districts and have the investigators highly trained to be able to accommodate our districts. We have three specific residency programs which we use to try to provide a variety of programs for schools of all sizes ..."

  • Schools Try to Draw Line on Residency: Kids Barred From Class As Districts Target 'Crashers' by Bonnie Miller Rubin, Chicago Tribune, February 23, 2008. "Boundary hopping -- attending school in one district while living in another -- has been practiced for years, as parents strive to get their children into better and safer environments. ... Many schools turn to investigators for surveillance, staking out homes, bus stops and train stations, videotaping comings and goings. Superintendents make house calls, wanting to see beds, closets, toys and refrigerators."

  • "Families fell victim to overborrowing in order to get their kids into better public schools"
    Did School District Boundaries Lead to Mortgage Crunch? by Mike Antonucci, Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué, April 28, 2008. "That's the provocative thesis of Cornell University economist Robert H. Frank. Writing in the April 27 Washington Post, Frank suggests families fell victim to overborrowing in order to get their kids into better public schools:
         'It is no surprise that two-income families would choose to spend much of their extra income on better education. And because the best schools are in the most expensive neighborhoods, the imperative was clear: To gain access to the best possible public school, you had to purchase the most expensive house you could afford.
         'But what works for any individual family does not work for society as a whole. The problem is that a 'good' school is a relative concept: It is one that is better than other schools in the same area. When we all bid for houses in better school districts, we merely bid up the prices of those houses ...
         'Congress should not bail out speculators and fraudulent borrowers. But neither should it be too quick to condemn families that borrowed what the lending system offered rather than send their children to inferior schools.'"

  • Do You Live In-District? Schools Send In PI's to Verify Residency by Crystal Yednak, Chicago Tribune, January 26, 2006. You dared to try to choose a school for your child? You might be getting a knock on the door from the Diamond Detective Agency or National Investigations Inc.! This article talks about how local districts like Bellwood, Berkeley, Evanston-Skokie, Evergreen Park and Oak Park try to crack down on parents seeking choice in an anti-choice state. "If utility bills, state ID cards and surveillance do not settle the question of whether a child lives in a school district, some Illinois schools go a step further -- sending investigators into homes and the child's bedroom to prove residency."

  • Border Fence Proposed for Wrong Border, Education Intelligence Agency, March 17, 2008. "... So there's a lot of sympathy for a Matamoros student who crosses an international border to attend a Brownsville public school. How about a Milford, Connecticut, student who crosses district boundaries to attend school in Norwalk? Not so much. Norwalk spends $40,000 annually to keep those students out. 'It is a process that is conducted with a good deal of discretion,' says the superintendent. 'We don't want people to know we are conducting surveillance.'"

  • Ohio District Offers Reward For Tips on Nonresident Students, Associated Press, May 1, 2008. "A northeast Ohio school system is offering $100 rewards for tips to identify students who live outside the district ... Officials suspected 100 of its 3,500 students live outside the district. Since September, 45 such students have left ..."

  • Stealing Education by Paul Hampel, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 24, 2007. "Sometimes, it's a birthday party that gives them away. A call comes in to a school office. It's from a parent who has just attended a celebration ... beyond the boundaries of the county district where the birthday boy or girl goes to school. The call kicks off an investigation ... [One district's] director of enrollment [says,] 'Sometimes they'll beg you to stay. It can be heartbreaking.' ... [A superintendent in another district] said some of those incidents involved parents who assumed that the precepts of the No Child Left Behind law entitled them to take their children out of failing schools and enroll them where they pleased. ... In [yet another district], where some subdivisions are split by district lines, real estate agents occasionally misinform homebuyers about which district they are buying into, said [the superintendent]."

  • School Districts Cracking Down on Boundary Hopping, Education News, January 11, 2007. "School districts, education agencies, and even municipal governments are increasing their attention on curtailing boundary hopping -- the practice of falsifying residency status to attend a specific school ... 'With fewer than a quarter of states offering open enrollment programs, the only choice for most families, at least as far as they can see, is to cheat the system,' writes [American School Board Journal] senior editor Naomi Dillion ..."

  • Crossing the Line: School Districts are getting tough with parents who hop boundaries to enroll students (cover story), by Naomi Dillon, American School Board Journal, January 2007. "In [school districts] across the country, more and more families these days are willing to go to any lengths to get their children into the right schools, even if means crossing the line between right and wrong. ... Boundary hopping -- the practice of falsifying residency status to attend a particular school -- has been around for years. In a handful of states, it has been alleviated by open enrollment, choice programs, and, to a lesser extent, charter schools. ... With fewer than a quarter of states offering open enrollment programs, the only choice for most families, at least as far as they can see, is to cheat the system. Most will use a friend or relative's address, but some savvy parents produce fake leases, obtain false identification cards, and even rent out short-term apartments in the district."

  • Trapped in the Wrong Government School by John Stossel, January 25, 2006. "If you're a public-school student, your chances in life may be largely dependent on where you live -- not just which country, not just which state, but which little bureaucratic zone. ... So parents sometimes cheat to get their kids in. At least cheating is what local officials call it. ... Esterlita Tapang, whose grandson attends a Fremont Union high school ... broke the rules. The rules said her grandson, because of where he lived, wasn't entitled to the quality education Fremont Union schools provide. But which is worse: a system that traps students in bad schools, or a grandmother who lies to save her grandson from being denied a decent education? I asked her, 'Isn't it creepy that they force you to go to the black market to get your kid a better education?' She thought it was. 'I was crying in front of this 14-year-old,' said the grandmother. 'Why can't they just let parents get in the school of their choice?' ... Why can't she choose her child's school? Most countries that beat America on international tests give their students that choice. In Belgium, the government spends less than American schools do on each student, but the money is attached to the kids. So they can go wherever they want -- to a state-run school, a Montessori school, or even a religious school. ... In public education, our land of the free is now a bunch of local fiefs, where petty-bureaucrats-turned-lords-of-the-manor decide whether you can get a decent education, and parents must go to them, begging for their children's future. Meanwhile, in Belgium and much of the rest of the world, students and their parents have the freedom to choose their schools -- and the opportunity that comes with that freedom."

  • From the Education Intelligence Agency:

    Mika Antonucci of the EIA concludes, "School choice -- the concept, if not the voucher system by which it is best known -- is a fact of American life. Rich people exercise it by moving to the suburbs. Poor people exercise it by pretending to move to the suburbs. Fighting it is like trying to prevent waves from reaching the shore."

Liberals and Conservatives

    Politics and Parent Choice: Both liberal and conservative perspectives on parent choice are covered in numerous links and quotes in this section of our page on politics and education.

    By the way: Think parent choice is only a conservative or Republican issue? Think again. Follow the link to hear what prominent Democrats like Joseph Lieberman, Dianne Feinstein, District of Columbia mayor Anthony A. Williams, Andrew Young, Robert B. Reich, Hubert Humphrey, and even John Kerry and Bill Clinton have said about parent choice.

Who Supports Parent Choice?

  • A majority of adult Americans support parent choice of schools, as we learn from a national survey conducted in 2005:

      Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose any school, public or private, to attend using public funds?
        60% Favor
        33% Oppose

  • The same survey, commissioned by the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, also looked into how a "loaded question" can bias survey results in surveys about parent choice. A separate panel was asked a question that was worded with a negative built-in bias. This type of question has been used in some several surveys conducted by groups opposed to parent choice:

      Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense?
        37% Favor
        55% Oppose

  • Other findings (from a similar survey conducted in 2004) include:
    • Most Americans (64 percent) support using tax dollars already allocated to a school district for education to be used to help parents pay for the school of their choice.
    • About 60 percent of Americans would be more likely to vote for a candidate supporting school choice.
    • Both Republicans (68 percent) and Democrats (54 percent) would be more likely to vote for a candidate supporting school choice.
    • Nearly 70 percent of African-American Democrats surveyed would be more likely to vote for a candidate supporting school choice.
    • The total number of African-Americans surveyed who favor school choice reaches 80 percent.
    • Even childless tax-payers support school choice. The majority of parents (65 percent) and non-parents (64 percent) favor using tax dollars to send a child to a school of their choice.

Who Is Opposed to Choice?

  • The Ugly Politics of Parental Choice Opponents (PDF) by George Mitchell, Wisconsin Interest, 2005, Vol. 14 No. 2

  • The Education Borg: In Florida and Wisconsin, Teachers Unions Crush Educational Opportunities OpinionJournal, Wall Street Journal Online, January 29, 2006. "Teachers unions keep telling us they care deeply, profoundly, about poor children. But what they do, as opposed to what they say, is behave like the Borg, those destructive aliens in the Star Trek TV series who keep coming and coming until everyone is 'assimilated.' We saw it in Florida this month when the state supreme court struck down a six-year-old voucher program after a union-led lawsuit. And now we're witnessing it in Milwaukee, where the nation's largest school choice program is under assault because Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle refuses to lift the cap on the number of students who can participate. ... What the Milwaukee and Florida examples show is that unions and their allies are unwilling to let even successful voucher experiments continue to exist. If they lose one court case, they will sue again--and then again, as long as it takes. And they'll shop their campaign cash around for years until they find a politician like Jim Doyle willing to sell out Wisconsin's poorest kids in return for their endorsement. Is there a more destructive force in American public life?"

  • Recess from Reality: The Feminist Failure to Embrace School Choice by Carrie L. Lukas, Independent Women's Forum, July 20, 2004, overview or full PDF report. From the introduction: "This paper provides an overview of various school choice initiatives that have arisen across the country. It examines women's interest in education reform, which extends beyond simply wanting the best education for children to the system's effects on women's lives. This paper considers and responds to the criticisms made by women's groups to many of these school choice proposals. And it concludes that women are better served by education policies that give parents control over where their children go to school, and that women's groups should join the chorus of school choice supporters."

  • NAACP's Fight Against Private School Vouchers by Star Parker, May 15, 2006. "Why would an organization that calls itself the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, whose motto is 'Making Democracy Work Since 1909,' oppose individual choice and freedom and dedicate itself to promoting public policy that guarantees the perpetuation of black poverty? As incongruous as this might sound, it is in fact true. ... The public school monopoly serves the black community so notoriously poorly that many blacks themselves poll in favor of vouchers. ... So what's going on here? You would think that NAACP leaders would be rabid in pushing for change and opening new educational opportunities available for black children. Yet, they doggedly defend a proven and hopeless failed status quo. ... Maybe one day the NAACP will wake up and recall that its mission is supposedly to expand not limit opportunities for black Americans."

  • How Members of Congress Practice Private School Choice (PDF) by Evan Feinberg, Heritage Foundation, September 4, 2007. "In 2007, [a] survey ... found that 37 percent of Representatives and 45 percent of Senators in the 110th Congress sent their children to private schools -- almost four times the rate of the general population. Based on the survey results, if all of the Members who exercised school choice for their own children had supported school choice in policy, every major legislative effort in recent years to give parents school choice would have passed."

  • Opportunity For Me, Not For Thee: Congressional Kids And Fairness In Public Policy by Krista Kafer, September 24, 2003. "...When it comes to their own children, many members of Congress support parent choice. In a recent survey, the Heritage Foundation asked every representative and senator whether he has ever sent a child to a private school. Of those responding, 41 percent of representatives and 46 percent of senators have done so. In the general population, only about 10 percent of students are enrolled in private schools. ... Sadly, many of the same policymakers who exercise choice in their own children's education have consistently voted to block legislation that would have given poor families the same range of options. In fact, had all members of Congress voted in a way that was consistent with their own private practice, every piece of voucher legislation voted on in the past three years would have passed."

Money, Schools and Choice

  • Saving Money and Improving Education: How School Choice Can Help States Reduce Education Costs by David Salisbury, Cato Institute, October 4, 2005. "Results from existing programs in Arizona, Milwaukee, Cleveland, Florida, Pennsylvania, Maine, and Vermont indicate that school choice makes fiscal sense. In addition, analyses of proposed school choice programs in Utah, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Baltimore, and Virginia conclude that those programs would save money and give an idea of the savings that could result from similar programs in other states. Thus far, much of the debate over school choice has focused on the educational benefits it could bring. It can bring significant fiscal benefits as well."

  • How School Choice Programs Can Save Money by Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D., Heritage Foundation, April 19, 2005. Excerpts: "School choice programs, like the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, are a way to increase academic performance, according to several evaluations to date. When public schools don't make the grade, school choice programs are good social policy. What is often overlooked, however, is that choice programs are good fiscal policy, as well. Consider the example of Washington, D.C., again. The maximum opportunity scholarship -- $7,500 -- is less than 60 percent of what Washington's public schools spend on a student."

  • The Economics of School Choice by Herbert J. Walberg and Joseph L. Bast, Chicago Sun-Times, December 20, 2003 Excerpts: "We suspect there is another factor stalling the school choice movement. It is the hesitancy by school choice advocates to defend the economics of school choice. In 1962, University of Chicago economics professor Milton Friedman ... set out a profound challenge to the status quo of government funding and operation of schools, calling it 'an indiscriminate extension of governmental responsibility.' Friedman's endorsement of vouchers lifted the idea from obscurity to the center of the debate over how to improve schools, but writers after Friedman chose to focus on the fairness and social justice aspects of school choice, rather than the economic justifications he presented."

  • Education by the Numbers: The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs, 1990-2006, by Susan L. Aud, Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, April 2007. Despite claims that school choice drains money from public schools, this study finds that private schooling is more efficient, producing savings for both public schools and state budgets. Key findings:

    • School choice programs saved a total of about $444 million from 1990 to 2006, including a total of $22 million saved in state budgets and $422 million saved in local public school districts.
    • Every existing school choice program is at least fiscally neutral and most produce a substantial savings; every school except 3 (1 in Utah, 2 in Maine) has produced at least $1 million in savings.
    • In nearly every school choice program, the dollar value of the voucher or scholarship is less than or equal to the state's formula spending per student, meaning states are spending the same amount or less on students in school choice programs.
    • In addition, when a student uses school choice, the local public school district no longer needs to pay the instructional costs associated with that student, but it does not lose all of its per-student revenue, because some revenue does not vary with enrollment levels.
    • Instructional spending per student has consistently gone up in all affected public school districts and states; school choice has not prevented those states and districts from spending more on the students who remain in public schools.

  • Magic Bullet by Lewis Andrews, American Enterprise, October/November 2003. "In attempts to cope with these [state] budget problems, one important contributing factor has been ignored: the exploding costs of public education. A comparison of the costs of public schooling versus private schooling suggests how much our current state schooling may needlessly inflate the cost of local government. ... Public education's huge role in America's fiscal woes would be easier to accept if there were positive results to show for the spending. But much of the extra funds sloshing through public schools is simply wasted. Only half the people on the District of Columbia public school payroll are teachers. [Editor's note: the is true in Illinois as well!] ... Though government spending on public education is now higher in the U.S. than in any other developed country, American middle and high school students ranked last in mathematics and science in the most recent International Assessment of Education Progress. Spending more is not helping our children. The only cure for America's education stall, many reformers now say, is to give parents more control over the public funds allocated for the education of their children. ... One point that has been missed up to now, however, is that school choice is more than just an educational innovation. It also has the potential to make education spending much more efficient, and thus to help reduce state and local budget pressures. Competition lowers the number of dollars needed to achieve good academic results."

  • Local Property Tax-Based Funding of Public Schools by Caroline M. Hoxby, Ph.D., Heartland Policy Study No. 82 -- May 19, 1997. The evidence is clear and convincing: Students and taxpayers alike are better off under locally based systems of school funding and school control.

  • Do-It-Yourself Calculator: Municipal Grants for Non-Public Schooling: School districts generally look at the supply side of the equation when deciding how to meet future enrollment projections. This leads to rounds of tax hikes and school construction. Few school districts ever bother to look at the demand side of the equation: "What if we try to reduce the number of students seeking admission, by offering them vouchers to any school of their choice, publicv or private?" This approach can often be far less expensive for the district, while increasing parent satisfaction. This calculator from the Yankee Institutecan demonstrate the financial advantage to your town of offering a grant to some students to attend non-public schools.

  • The Heartland Report on School Finance Reform for Illinois Part 1 and Part 2 (PDF documents) by Joseph L. Bast, Herbert J. Walberg, and Robert J. Genetski Heartland Policy Studies #72 and #73 -- May 1996 In February 1996, a Commission on Education Funding called by then-Governor Jim Edgar reported its findings and called for increasing state spending on schools, reducing spending variation among school districts, and relieving property tax burdens by increasing the state income tax. Part 1 (PDF) replies to the Commission's findings, tracking the organization of its own report. Part 2 (PDF) advances an alternative reform plan to put Illinois on course to a world-class school system.

Illinois Tuition Tax Credits

    Illinois provides a very small amount (up to $500) in tax credits for private tuition costs. But it has many restrictions, and a family can only claim the maximum of $500 even if paying tuition for more than one child. Such a small amount has little impact on either personal decision-making, or stimulation of development of new educational choices.

    (To learn more about how to claim this credit, and to compute how much you may be entitled to, this description [written by the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago] may be helpful.)

    In March 2004, the Friedman Foundation released a report, Ranking Vouchers (PDF), written by Robert C. Enlow, that analyzed and compared 13 different programs across the country that provide vouchers, tax credits, or tax deductions intended to assist families looking for a choice in schools. Illinois ranked 9th in this field of 13. Here is what the report said about Illinois:

      Illinois and Minnesota provide personal income tax credits or deductions for school tuition expenses. This is the equivalent of a voucher program implemented through the tax code; while neither program provides enough money to fully cover tuition at even a cheap private school, both make private schooling marginally more affordable. Both programs earn a D for Academic/Income Restrictions because families must earn enough to pay state income tax in order to benefit at all from the programs, and must earn enough to pay a significant amount of state income tax to benefit fully. They earn a B for Program Scope Restrictions because they do not repay tuition payments dollar for dollar: families must spend more than the amount they get back. Both programs provide a very small total amount of money to each family. Illinois pays a maximum of $500, while Minnesota provides a tax deduction for $1,625 of taxable income in grades K-6 and for $2,500 in grades 7- 12, so both get an F for Purchasing Power. Neither program imposes any School Restrictions. The Illinois and Minnesota programs both get Cs, with grade point averages of 2.00.

    Here is the complete list of the criteria used in this Friedman report, and how they evaluated Illinois' tuition tax credit program:

      Illinois Tuition Tax Credit
      Ratings from Friedman Foundation
      Student EligibilityAcademic/Income Restrictions1D
      Program Scope Restrictions3B
      Student Eligibility Overall2C
      Purchasing Power0F
      School EligibilityGeneral School Restrictions4A
      Admission Policy Restrictions4A
      Testing/Outcome Restrictions4A
      School Eligibility Overall4A
      Overall Grade2.00C
      Ranking9th of 13 states

Education Savings Accounts (ESAs)

  • Time to Consider Education Savings Accounts by Joseph L. Bast, School Reform News, September 1, 2005. Excerpts: "As vouchers and tax credits move from theory to practice in cities and states across the country, greater attention is being focused on matters of program design. One design feature that could boost the effectiveness of school choice and possibly minimize the threat of increased regulation of participating schools is Education Savings Accounts, or ESAs. ... The ESA replaces the idea that a voucher or refundable tax credit would be a certificate or scholarship worth a specified amount when redeemed for tuition by a participating school. Instead, each student would have a savings account from which his or her parents or guardians could pay for educational services provided by a variety of service providers. ESAs recognize trends in education leading away from the conventional school as the sole place for K-12 learning by freeing parents to choose multiple service providers in addition to, or instead of, paying tuition to a single school. The result could be an explosion of creativity as tutors, curriculum specialists, and distance learning providers compete to serve a rapidly expanding market."

Public School Tuition?

  • Why Aren't Public Schools More Like Universities? by Richard K. Vedder, Distinguished Professor of Economics, Ohio University, September 2, 2005. Excerpts: "There is widespread agreement that America has the best universities in the world. Foreign students enroll by the hundreds of thousands, and American college professors dominate the Nobel Prize lists. But virtually no one says we have the best K-12 education in the world. To the contrary, many lament the poor showing of American students on international tests. What makes American universities so much better than our primary and secondary schools? While many factors are at work, much of the explanation can be summarized in two words: 'privatization' and 'markets.' ... universities are far more subject to the discipline of the market, meaning they face financial consequences for displeasing students or parents. ... Can K-12 reformers learn something from the universities? Yes, with caveats. As costs for public schools rise, cash-strapped governments should consider freezing subsidies to the public schools and allow them to charge tuition. To avert arguments that we are denying access to the poor, 'progressive vouchers' like those once advocated by [Clinton administration cabinet member] Robert Reich might be used."

Choice Within Public Schools

  • The Agony of American Education: How per-student funding can revolutionize public schools by Lisa Snell, Reason, April 2006. Snell's premise is that some choice is at least better than no choice as she describes school districts in San Francisco and Edmonton that allow parents to enroll their kids in any of their city's [public] schools. She writes, "In these districts, the money follows the children, parents have the right to choose their children's public schools and leave underperforming schools, and school principals and communities have the right to spend their school budgets in ways that make their schools more desirable to parents. As a result, the number of schools parents view as 'acceptable' has increased greatly in the last several years."

    This is certainly an accomplishment, although Snell also notes, "Public school choice is not a panacea. ... unlike an actual market system in education, public schools are still strapped with myriad local, state, and federal regulations. ... Public school choice is at best a weak substitute for true school choice ... A better alternative would be to move to a direct financing mechanism through vouchers, tax credits, or charter schools -- an arrangement under which per-pupil funding immediately empowers parents and leads to the most decentralized schools of all, with 100 percent local budget control."

    The article concludes, "Yet the better alternative is not always the politically feasible alternative. School decentralization offers a compelling model for restructuring school financing, giving principals and parents true control over their schools, and offering real [public] school choice to all students within the constraints of a public school system. It also gets parents used to the idea that schools need not be linked to real estate. And it demonstrates that even within a limited pseudo-market, when families become consumers of education services with the right of exit, schools quickly improve to attract them."

    We're sure there is much more to the story: For example, the article has little mention of finessing union contracts to go along with all this, and the dollar values it talks about for kids are ridiculously low. Still, it's a great example of making progress by moving from A to B to C to D, rather than stubbornly sticking to A while holding out for Z.

  • Sidebar to the above article: Meet Arlene Ackerman, the woman who shook up San Francisco's schools interviewed by Lisa Snell, Reason, April 2006.

News Updates

Organizations - Parent Choice

Organizations - Education Reform


    "Right now, the quality of your children's education depends on your address."
    -- Tom Zafiratos, superintendent of Pennoyer District 79 in Norridge, a suburb of Chicago (Norridge and Harwood Heights News, February 3, 2005)

    "Broadly speaking, there are only two ways to create accountability for student progress in large systems: standards, or competition. The standards movement is getting its chance now. Depending on how well it delivers, the voucher movement, or at least more radical forms of public school choice, may not be far behind."
    -- Matthew Miller, writing in The Washington Monthly, June 2001

    "And so reality intrudes on the best intentions of the No Child Left Behind Act. 'Choice' is limited, in part because school bureaucracies have been slow to embrace it, and in part because legislatures and Congress have been reluctant to embrace such measures as school vouchers, designed to give low-income children broader access to private school alternatives."
    -- Editorial, Chicago Tribune, August 8, 2003

    "The only reason that public schools enjoy as much support as they still do is that most parents are still harboring the illusion that the schools are still somehow similar to the schools of their own youth."
    -- Dave Ziffer

    "The major roadblock to the advance of school choice in the suburbs is not how to pursue a solution, but for families first to recognize there is a problem and that they have little choice or control over what their children are taught in public schools."
    -- George A. Clowes, School Reform News, October 2001

    "Offering choice only within the public schools is akin to offering Russians the right to shop at different state stores."
    -- John Leo

    "The cities have been murdered by their schools. If the schools were good, we could handle the other problems."
    -- Jerrold R. Zacharias, professor, MIT, September 1, 1969

    "I do believe you will find a strong movement for charter schools and school choice whenever a school district is not responsive to what parents want."
    -- Cheri Pierson Yecke, former Minnesota state Commissioner of Education

    "There is nothing in the concept of democracy to require that schools be subject to direct control by school boards, central offices, departments of education, and other arms of government. ... There are many paths of democracy and public education."
    -- John E. Chubb and Terry M. Moe, Politics, Markets and America's Schools

    "The United States is the outlier -- it's the place that is strange. All of the Western European countries and Canada have school choice. They don't always call it vouchers but they have it. If you lived in Winnipeg you could go to any private, public or parochial school and the province pays. They have choice. They have choice in Sweden -- socialist Sweden has choice: vouchers for going to religious schools, private schools, public schools. Only the United States has this system where all the money just goes to the government-owned schools. It's unusual. It's weird. It's not sustainable in the long run. Eventually choice will catch on."
    -- John O. Norquist, former Democratic mayor of Milwaukee

    "Expanded parental choice is a necessary condition for authentic school reform."
    -- Rod Paige, U.S. Secretary of Education, on "O'Reilly Factor", Fox News, June 4, 2001

    "The idea of a public school monopoly is dead. It needs to be relegated to the Smithsonian."
    -- Rod Paige, U.S. Secretary of Education

    "We must love our children's hopes and dreams and prayers more than we love the institutional heritage of the school system."
    -- Willard Daggett

    "How did we ever get into a situation of telling parents where they have to send their kids to school?"
    -- Lamar Alexander, US Secretary of Education, 1991-1993

    "In order to improve K through 12 education, I believe it is essential for parents to have options. They should have more than a Hobson's choice when it comes to educating their children -- they should have real choice. They should be able to consider a magnet program in a neighborhood school, or an innovative charter school, or an improving public school or the chance to apply for a scholarship to help pay the tuition at a private school. That's the kind of choice that will inspire competition and foster innovation."
    -- Anthony A. Williams, Democratic mayor of Washington, D.C., July 1, 2003

    "President Bush talks about school choice and accountability, which is good, but 'No Child Left Behind' has allowed very few parents to choose different schools for their children. What it has allowed is an unprecedented expansion of federal authority over schooling."
    -- Joseph Bast, Heartland Institute, "Heartlander," November 2000

    "Based on the substantial amount of money pumped into the schools and the resultant test scores, I do not believe that money alone is going to solve the problem. This is why I believe the District [of Columbia] should be allowed to try [school vouchers]."
    -- U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (Democrat-Calif), July 22, 2003

    "If I was the parent of a child who went to an inner-city school that was failing ... I might be for vouchers, too."
    -- Vice President Al Gore, August 9, 2000, in a moment of candor, speaking to a campaign rally in a school gym in Tennessee.

    "Money is not the only answer to the crisis in education ... We also have to shake up the system. The current system is not functioning as well as it should. I'm intrigued by the ideas of vouchers and choice as a way to create competition in the educational marketplace. I bet such competition would be popular, and would excite a lot of families, a lot of parents, a lot of students."
    -- Sen. Joseph Lieberman (1990)

    "If you ask me personally, I'm still for a test of vouchers. ... But I understand how this works when you are vice president."
    -- Sen. Joseph Lieberman, interviewed on CNN on August 13, 2000

    "The standoff between vouchers and money is predictable. It is also regrettable, because it prevents consideration of a most promising way to improve school performance -- giving kids 'progressive' vouchers that are inversely related to the size of their family's income ... Why not simply 'voucherize' all education funding and let students and their parents select where they can get the best education?"
    -- Robert B. Reich, former Secretary of Labor, Wall Street Journal, September 6, 2000

    "Most American parents give their kids' schools an A or B grade, but that's only because, without market competition, they don't know what they might have had."
    -- John Stossel

    "The state has intruded into civil society in a way that the Founders would never have envisaged. It does not merely fund the majority of schools: it controls them."
    -- Roger Scruton, American Spectator, December 2006

    "If public money that is reasonably attributable to the State is used to pay for a religious education, it violates the Constitution ... The only way in which it's not attributable to the State is if it doesn't go there by virtue of a State action or a State decision, but the circuit is broken ... and the circuit is broken because in between, standing between the State and standing between the schools, is an independent party with decisionmaking to divert it away."
    -- Robert H. Chanin, teacher union attorney, arguing against vouchers before the U.S. Supreme Court in January 2002, inadvertently providing a clear argument for why school choice by parents does not violate the Constitution.

    "If the only motive was to help people who could not afford education, advocates of government involvement would have simply proposed tuition subsidies."
    -- Milton Friedman, economist, 1976 Nobel Laureate

    "Assumption of responsibility by government for educating all children does not require that schooling be delivered in government-run institutions -- just as government food stamps need not be spent in government grocery stores. ...
        School vouchers can push elementary and secondary education out of the 19th century and into the 21st by introducing market competition on a broad scale, just as competition has made progress possible in every other area of economic and civic life."
    -- Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize winner, New York Times, July 2, 2002

    "Vouchers are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a market system."
    -- Milton Friedman

    "I am a public school teacher. I made what was a very difficult decision last year -- to send my child to a private school. ... The public school where I work is full of hard working, dedicated teachers, who are stretched to their limits. They are aware of many children whose needs they cannot meet. We have tried many extra groups, team teaching, etc., to attempt to meet those needs in a better way. It is not nearly enough. We need massive change in the system. I don't see this happening soon. I welcome vouchers. I deserve to have more choices for my child. The children and families I work with deserve more choices."
    -- Ellen Davis of Elk River, Minnesota, in a letter to the editor of the Minnesota Educator, August 22, 2002

    "What is the fundamental difference between our higher educational system and our K-12 system? The real, fundamental difference is that Northwestern University doesn't own any students. The University of Chicago doesn't own any students. The University of Illinois doesn't own any students. They have to earn them. They have to compete."
    -- Illinois State Senator Steve Rauschenberger, interviewed by Jeff Berkowitz

    "If I had a business that half the product we turned out was defective or you couldn't put into the marketplace, I would shut that business down."
    -- Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, , March 26, 2008, referring to high school dropout rates of 50% or higher <-- -->

    "We have found, in our country, that when people have the right to make decisions as close to home as possible, they usually make the right decisions."
    -- Ronald Reagan

    "If you spend your own money on yourself, you care how much you spend and how well you spend it.
    If you spend your own money on someone else, you care how much you spend, but you don't care how well it is spent.
    If you spend someone else's money on yourself, you don't care how much you spend, but you do care how well it is spent.
    And finally, if you spend someone else's money on someone else, you don't care how much you spend, and you don't care how well it is spent. That is government."
    -- Milton Friedman

    "The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose, excludes any general power of the state to standardize children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state: those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations."
    -- James C. McReynolds, writing for the majority in Pierce vs. Society of Sisters, U.S. Supreme Court, 1925. The Court ruled unconstitutional an Oregon law that attempted to make attendence at public school compulsory.

    "School choice isn't true choice when the State removes an entire class of options, as Maine did when it barred religious schools from participating in its tuitioning program ... Maine's tuitioning program should not favor religion, but to discriminate against religion as it now does is simply unfair and unconstitutional. The State should allow parents to select religious schools for their children among a range of other private and public options."
    -- Richard Komer, Senior Litigation Attorney, Institute for Justice

    "The Fourteenth Amendment protects the citizen against the State itself and all of its creatures -- Boards of Education not excepted. ... Probably no deeper division of our people could proceed from any provocation than from finding it necessary to choose what doctrine and whose program public educational officials shall compel youth to unite in embracing."
    -- Robert H. Jackson, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1943

    "Americans, with our supposed love of freedom and democracy, never question the right of the state to proselytize children. That to me is one of the great affronts to human liberty."
    -- Gore Vidal, author

    "If the First Amendment is applied to the reality of schooling as it has developed in this century, the conclusion must be that individual liberty, the healthy functioning of the political system, and the preservation of a truly public and governable public-school system require a separation of school and state."
    -- Stephen Arons, Compelling Belief, 1983, pp 212-213

    "People should be free to find or make for themselves the kinds of educational experience they want their children to have. "
    -- John Holt

    "Private schools are held to account in the most effective way possible -- they're accountable to their customers who are free to take their business elsewhere if they're not satisfied."
    -- Mike Rosen, Rocky Mountain News

    "There was a day, within our lifetimes, when public officials stood in school doorways in an attempt to keep some students from entering. Now we have the sad spectacle of others symbolically standing in school doorways attempting to keep any students from getting out."
    -- David W. Kirkpatrick

    "To have a constitutional right dependent upon an ability to pay is no right at all."
    -- David W. Kirkpatrick

    "If the government would make up its mind to require for every child a good education, it might save itself the trouble of providing one."
    -- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859

    "The objections which are urged with reason against State education, do not apply to the enforcement of education by the State, but to the State's taking upon itself to direct that education, which is a totally different thing."
    -- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859

    "An education established and controlled by the State, should only exist, if it exist at all, as one among many competing experiments, carried on for the purpose of example and stimulus, to keep the others up to a certain standard of excellence."
    -- John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859

    "We are opposed to state interference with parental rights and rights of conscience in the education of children as an infringement of the fundamental Democratic doctrine that the largest individual liberty consistent with the rights of others insures the highest type of American citizenship and the best government."
    -- National Platform of the Democratic Party, 1892

    "State ownership means trusting the politicians."
    -- G. K. Chesterton, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 19, 1921

    "Education is the established church of the United States. It is one of the religions that Americans believe in. It has its own orthodoxy, its pontiffs and its noble buildings."
    -- Sir Michael Sadler, New York Times, Sept. 1, 1956

    "Practically all the time in traditional Western classrooms ... is spent on producing respectable mediocrity."
    -- Peter F. Drucker, Post-Capitalist Society, p. 202, 1993

    "As long as we don't have a choice, nothing is going to change."
    -- television ad for a new local telephone company in Chicago

    "It is often easier for our children to obtain a gun than it is to find a good school."
    -- Joycelyn Elders
    "Maybe that's because guns are sold at a profit, while schools are provided by the government."
    -- David Boaz

    "Riddle of the year : How is a public school like the U.S. Post Office?
    Answer : It's inefficient, it costs more each year than the last, it is a perpetual subject of complaint about which nothing is ever done. It is, in short, a typical government monopoly."
    -- David Friedman

    "We must trust parents -- not government -- to make the education decisions that affect their kids. It's simply a matter of social and economic justice."
    -- Gov. Thomas Ridge (Pennsylvania), address to Union League of Philadelphia, April 13, 2000

    "It is ironic that teacher unions oppose voucher plans -- even when limited only to public schools. For years, the unions have demanded recognition of teaching as a full profession... The irony: Only under a voucher plan would teachers be as 'professional' as are doctors or lawyers. Professionals, except teachers, already work in an open marketplace."
    -- Philip and Susan Jones

    "If former President Clinton had proposed legislation with testing, greater federal funding and no private school vouchers, conservatives would have killed it. Not only would we have killed it, but we would have held a press conference celebrating its defeat."
    -- an unnamed congressman, quoted in a newspaper article following George W. Bush's wimp-out on school vouchers, May 2001

    "If this [voucher] provision is eliminated, we have lost most of the president's vision for education reform because the only thing this bill will do is empower the bureaucrats in Washington."
    -- Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., following George W. Bush's wimp-out on school vouchers, May 2001

    "...parental choice and involvement are important to excellence in education... ... parents have a fundamental right to direct the education and upbringing of their children..."
    -- from H.R. 578, passed unanimously by the House of Representatives

    "A child will be better brought up by a wise father however limited, than by the cleverest teacher in the world."
    -- Jean-Jacques Rousseau, quoted by Diane Ravitch in her book Left Back, with the comment that "It was ironic that Rousseau became a hero to progressives ... who were building state systems of public education, because he was hostile to social institutions ... he was a champion of home schooling, not public education."

    "The only real measure of a teacher's competence, over time, is whether parents want the services of that teacher."
    -- unknown

    "We've all bought into the crazy idea that for some mysterious reason -- which no one seems able to articulate -- education should not operate according to the same principles that govern every other sector of our society. ... But we do have a model for competition and choice. It's called all the rest of America. In fact, we even have a competitive model within education, and it's called the university system."
    -- Ted Forstmann, Chairman and CEO of the Children's Scholarship Fund

    "It is irrelevant whether the parents of a voucher student are satisfied or dissatisfied with the education that their children receive."
    -- Bob Chanin, general counsel for the National Education Association, quoted in Heartland News. August 2002

    "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children."
    -- United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26(3).

    "The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions."
    -- United Nations, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 18

    "The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to choose for their children schools, other than those established by the public authorities, which conform to such minimum educational standards as may be laid down or approved by the State and to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions."
    -- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights guarantees, Article 13 Paragraph 3, 1966.

    "I used to think that technology could help education. I've probably spearheaded giving away more computer equipment to schools than anybody else on the planet. But I've come to the inevitable conclusion that the problem cannot be fixed with technology ... No amount of technology will make a dent. ... It's a political problem ... The problems are unions. ... You plot the growth of the NEA [National Education Association] and the dropping of SAT scores, and they're inversely proportional. The problems are the unions in the schools ... I'm one of these people who believes the best thing we could ever do is go to the full voucher system."
    -- Steve Jobs, co-founder, Apple Computer, Wired magazine, February 1996

    "I believe that if Martin Luther King and A. D. King were here they would say 'Do what's best for the children.' It [the idea for school vouchers] may sound radical, but so were they."
        "Is it moral to tax families, compel their children's attendance at schools, and then give no choice between teaching methods, religious or secular education and other matters?"
    -- Alveda King, niece of Martin Luther King, Jr., Wall Street Journal, September 11, 1997

    "It's time to admit that public education operates like a planned economy, a bureaucratic system in which everybody's role is spelled out in advance, and there are few incentives for innovation and productivity. It's no surprise that our school system doesn't improve: It more resembles the communist economy than our own market economy."
    -- Albert Shanker, late president, American Federation of Teachers, Wall Street Journal, "Reding, Wrighting & Erithmatic," October 2, 1989.

    "I find it intriguing that public school teachers who have never put their kids in the schools that they teach in will insist that poor parents keep their children in these very schools. Why? Because if those children leave, it could affect their employment. But if the school is not good enough for their children, why is it good enough for anybody's children?"
    -- Dr. Howard Fuller, former Superintendent of Schools in Milwaukee, Distinguished Professor of Education, Marquette University (from " Cambridge School Choice Conference")

    "If parents of students have the right to choose so many other basics in their lives -- such as where they live, where they go to church, where they work -- then they also ought have the right to choose where their children go to school."
    -- Kurt Schmoke, Democratic mayor of Baltimore, quoted by Associated Press, March 8, 1996

    "It is amazing how many people think that the government's role is to give them what they want by overriding what other people want."
    -- Thomas Sowell, Ph.D.

    "If you are serious about wanting to improve education, do not vote more money for the education establishment that has been dumbing down the schools for years. Vote for vouchers, tax credits, or anything else that will transfer decision-making power to parents."
    -- Thomas Sowell, Ph.D.

    "The one area that I would emphasize ... is choice and vouchers. ... The only thing that I believe is going to change dramatically public education in this country is to go to a choice system and break up the monopoly."
    -- Rudolph Giuliani, June 13, 2006

    "It is out of character for a country that prides itself on intellectual freedom to put the education of its young in the hands of the state."
    -- David Kelley, "Learning the Hard Way," p. 17, Barron's, February 17, 1986

    "Our freedom of choice in a competitive society rests on the fact that, if one person refuses to satisfy our wishes, we can turn to another. But if we face a monopolist we are at his mercy."
    -- Friedrich A. Hayek

    "Unfortunately, when most people call for solutions, a different way of thinking is usually the last thing they have in mind. What they want instead is something that will not challenge their assumptions, shock their sensibilities, or violate the conventional wisdom."
    -- William Ophuls, Requiem for Modern Politics, Westview Press, 1997

    "[W]e have a serious national crisis on our hands ... we should not be worrying whther particular reform propositions are too radical. We should be worrying whether they are radical enough."
    -- Clint Bolick, director, Alliance for School Choice, in his book, Leviathan: The Growth of Local Government and the Erosion of Civil Liberty.

    "Our K-12 system of public schools ... represents perhaps the largest socialized delivery system outside of Communist China. And the results are all too predictable."
    -- Clint Bolick, director, Alliance for School Choice, in his book, Leviathan: The Growth of Local Government and the Erosion of Civil Liberty.

    "The schools operate as a monopoly, sheltered from the market consequences of failure."
    -- Clint Bolick, director, Alliance for School Choice, in his book, Leviathan: The Growth of Local Government and the Erosion of Civil Liberty.

    "I know of no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion."
    -- Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Charles Jarvis, September 28, 1820

    "To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical. I have sworn on the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
    -- Thomas Jefferson


    There are many other great quotes about choice and vouchers on this page at the SchoolReformers website.

    "If I didn't think a charter school was necessary, these letters have convinced me the high school was not doing an adequate job in teaching English language arts."
    -- Roberta Schaefer, member, Massachusetts State Board of Education, referring to a student letter-writing campaign opposing a proposed charter school in Marlboro. Many of the letters contained spelling and punctuation errors. The board approved the charter. (Boston Herald, February 25, 2004)

    "The reason so many charter schools sprouted in Arizona so quickly is that, once again, we bypassed the school districts. The early charter movement floundered a decade ago because most states forced schools to obtain charters from local school boards. No surprise that charters weren't springing up fast: this would be like Burger King asking for permission to sell Whoppers in the local McDonald's. There's just not going to be any enthusiasm to help out the competition."
    -- Lisa Graham Keegan, former Superintendent of Public Instruction, State of Arizona

    "The traditional public school system must change how it does business to compete with charter schools."
    -- a remarkable statement on the power of competition, from Paul Karlowicz, president of the NEA-affiliated Tucson Education Association

    "Charter schools are just public schools on a slightly longer leash. A dog on a long leash is still a dog on a leash."
    -- Marshall Fritz

    "Competition from charter schools is the best way to motivate the ossified bureaucracies governing too many public schools. This grass-roots revolution seeks to reconnect public education with our most basic values: ingenuity, responsibility, and accountability."
    -- Sen. Joseph Lieberman

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