The Astounding Force Driving Education Reform

Lil Tuttle
Education Director
Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute

August 23, 2000

School may be out for summer, but education is definitely in as one of the hottest topics in living rooms, corporate board rooms, and campaign policy debates.

Maybe we got tired of finishing last in the international student achievement race. Maybe it was the high cost of sustaining the insatiable appetite of sluggish state school systems. Or maybe we finally grasped the national risks associated with r ampant ignorance and illiteracy.

Whatever the reason, the millennium has ushered in a new attitude and a host of ideas to reenergize our flabby couch-potato of an education system.

States' standards-based reforms - academic standards and testing - are taking hold in many public schools. Never in my 30 years as an educator, said one state senator, have I seen so much attention given to student instruction.

But the more important engine in K-12 education's revitalization is school choice, proving once again that competition encourages innovation and progress.

~ More than 70 scholarship programs in the nation raise millions of private charitable dollars to give poor parents the chance to send their children to private schools.

~ Independent public charter schools are now allowed in 36 states and the District of Columbia. The number of charter schools grew by 44% between 1998 and 1999.

~ Private school vouchers are publicly-funded in 5 states. In Florida, students assigned to habitually failing public schools can use Opportunity Scholarships-a state voucher worth $4,000-to attend any private school, religious-based school, or better p ublic school of their choice.

~ Tuition tax credits are available in 4 states and under consideration in several others. Illinois allows a $500 parental credit for out-of-pocket education expenses, including private school tuition; and Arizona offers a $500 credit to donors of schol arship funds used to offset children's private school tuition expenses.

~ Michigan and California both have voucher initiatives on November's ballot. California's initiative would offer parents a $4,000 voucher toward private school costs. If large numbers of students took the voucher, California taxpayers would realize a n et savings of $3.4 billion a year.

The keepers of the couch - teacher union leadership particularly - hate the idea of school choice. They spend millions of dollars trying to persuade courts of law and public opinion that school choice in any form is a bad idea. And it may be for t hem, since they stand to lose their colossal monopoly power.

For everyone else, school choice is a beneficial, energizing, muscle-building exercise designed to get K-12 education on its feet and moving children toward a healthier future.

This article copyright © 2000 by Lil Tuttle, Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute and may not be reproduced in any form without the express written consent of its author. All rights reserved.