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Parental Freedom Is Flourishing

Larry Sand

More and more states are adopting school choice measures

Author: Larry Sand

It’s no secret that the government education monopoly is in trouble. Across the country, public schools are emptying while parental choice is flourishing. Florida, perhaps the national leader in this movement, has four different private school choice programs: one education savings account (ESA), one voucher program, and two tax-credit scholarships.

One of the results of Florida’s success is that many of the state’s public schools are shutting down. Florida’s Broward County, the sixth largest school district in the country, housing some 320 k-12 schools, could see 42 of them shut down, including 32 elementary schools, eight middle schools, and two high schools. 

The situation is summed up succinctly by Chris Moya, a Florida lobbyist who represents charter schools. “If your product is better, you’ll be fine. The problem is that they (traditional ZIP-code-mandated schools) are a relic of the past — a monopolized system where you have one option. And when parents have options, they vote with their feet.” 

The momentum for school choice is accelerating rapidly. Eleven states, home to around 23% of all public school students, now offer universal choice. 

Alabama, the latest state to embrace parental freedom, officially joined the club in March with the signing of HB 129. This legislation, titled the Creating Hope and Opportunity for Our Students’ Education or CHOOSE Act, paves the way for an education freedom account program that all students will be eligible for in 2027. 

This trend is set to continue, with Louisiana poised to become the 12th state to offer universal school choice. On May 30, the Louisiana legislature approved the LA GATOR program, sending the bill to Gov. Jeff Landry's desk. Pending his signature, the bill will become law.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ latest data, public schools served 1.2 million fewer students in 2022-23 than they did in the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic. The losses were widespread, with 37 states and two-thirds of school districts suffering declines. NCES also projects that public schools will lose an additional 2.4 million students (4.9%) by 2031.

While typically, parental choice has been a Republican issue, there are exceptions. Most recently, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, successfully lobbied to defeat three GOP state representatives who helped thwart the governor’s push last year behind legislation that would have made ESAs universal throughout the state. Along with House Democrats and a few rural Republicans, they voted to expressly prohibit the use of state funding for all forms of school vouchers last spring. When Abbott called a special session several months later, the same group again removed a school choice provision from an omnibus K–12 funding bill.  

In response, Abbott took the rare step of backing ESA supporters against the incumbents in state legislative primaries. “In March, nine Republicans who’d previously defied Abbott lost the party’s nomination, while four more were denied majorities and forced into runoff elections decided on Tuesday.” Abbott was thrilled, announcing that House Republicans now held “enough votes to pass school choice.” Texas has about 10% of all public school students in the country. If Texas adopts universal school choice, more than one-third of U.S. public school students will have access to choice.

It’s worth noting that some Republicans in rural areas have been anti-choice because they claim the population isn’t large enough to support multiple schools. But ultimately, this is a nonissue.

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