This has been a blockbuster year for private school choice. Twenty-one states have voted to create, expand or improve school choice programs, including three — Kentucky, Missouri and West Virginia — that previously had none. Eligibility for the new education savings account program in West Virginia and the expanded voucher program in Indiana encompasses nearly 80 percent of those states’ school-aged children. And, in December, the Supreme Court will finally resolve whether the First Amendment prohibits the government from excluding religious schools from private school choice programs. If the plaintiffs prevail, the decision in Carson v. Makin will render toothless many state Blaine Amendments, clearing the way for an even more dramatic expansion of choice throughout the nation.
Clearly, private school choice, long the third rail in education policy debates, has moved from the margins to the mainstream. In the three decades since Wisconsin enacted the nation’s first school voucher program in 1990, parent choice has exploded onto the educational scene. With the addition of three states to the roster this year, 31 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico now have at least one private school choice program, and more likely will join the ranks in the near term. These parental choice programs provide much-needed educational opportunities for disadvantaged children, opening the doors to private and faith-based schools that have long served disadvantaged and minority students well. But, as private school choice expands, the question inevitably follows: How should regulators hold private schools participating in publicly funded choice programs accountable?
Nicole Stelle Garnett is the John P. Murphy Foundation professor of law at University of Notre Dame and an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Based on the recent issue brief, Accountability and Private-School Choice.
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