Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center takes a look at the exodus from public schools in the state in the last few years
Washington Policy Center
The State Caseload Forecast Council recently reported that 46,000 students have pulled out of Washington public schools in the last few years.
New reporting data shows that, while public schools are in decline, private school enrollment has jumped from 65,000 to 81,000 students since 2019. Homeschool enrollment has also increased, rising some 42% from 21,000 to 30,000 students.
This means at least 25,000 former public school students are now getting a private education. The move is remarkable because public school is supposedly “free” (actually your neighbors pay for it through taxes) yet many families are willing to shoulder the financial burden of finding a better alternative.
The public education establishment doesn’t seem interested or to care. Public officials have expressed no interest in understanding, or even recognizing, that they are losing families.
Brandi Kruse, however, is open-minded and curious. She and I discussed why so many parents are turning their backs on a free public education. She noted that school shut-downs gave parents a rare window into how public education really works. Clearly many parents were not impressed.
We also discussed the growing popularity of school choice programs in other states. Some form of choice exists in 32 states (and, yes, Washington is not one of them). This year eight states expanded school choice to all families residing within their borders. The programs range from $4,300 to $8,400 per child per year to pay for private school or homeschooling, at the parents’ option. These forward-looking states are West Virginia, Iowa, Utah, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma and Ohio.
Brandi asked me, “Sure parents love school choice, but doesn’t it take money away from the public schools?” The answer is “No.” In every state with choice, funding for public schools increased. And even if it didn’t, the money is supposed to give children access to a good education, regardless of where they get it. The government uses contractors to deliver public services all the time. Why can’t the same be true of getting kids educated?
Washington’s constitution says it is the Paramount Duty of state officials to make “ample provision for the education of every child.” It says nothing about making kids attend monopoly government-run schools, 120 of which the state has identified as “failing.”
Not surprisingly, giving parents choices is very popular. Polls show 70 percent of the public supports school choice, including Latinos (73 percent), African-Americans (67 percent), and the Millennial generation (75 percent). For families with special needs child support for choice rises to a whopping 83 percent.
Giving families options does nothing to hurt old-style schools. With a $19.7 billion budget, (or about $19,000 per student), traditional public schools have plenty of money. And, as data from other states shows, school choice does not reduce funding for the old system.
Brandi and I had a good discussion that could have gone on for hours. It’s well worth a listen. Meanwhile, see my latest in-depth study “Six common objections made by opponents of school choice and why they are false.” Read it here.
Liv Finne is the director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center.
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