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"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandela

The Consequences of High-Regulation in School Choice

By Carole Hornsby Haynes, Ph.D. | January 14, 2016  National Center for Policy Analysis    Education Views 

As the public demand for school choice shifts into high gear, so does the focus shift from school choice to school quality.  Those same school choice backers who are fleeing government schools because of heavy regulations now do not trust the free market approach to bring quality.  Already they are calling for a rather heavy measure of regulations to ensure quality.

Those regulations are designed to prevent bad schools from being choice options or to be sued as determinants for removing from the list of choices those “schools that become bad.”  A “regulator” must oversee -- is this the nose of the camel in the choice tent that will create a new system of centrally controlled schools? 

Experts who warned about negative consequences due to high-regulation are vindicated by the National Bureau of Economic Research’s recently released study of a Louisiana statewide voucher program in school year 2012-2013 and its effects upon student achievement.  This is the first random-assignment study of a school choice program to yield negative results. 

Students receiving a voucher were 50 percent more likely to fail the state math test than students not receiving a voucher.  Students also performed worse on reading, science, and social studies tests. 

Fordham’s Michael Petrilli and Amber Northern waved away the analysis by Jason Bedrick of Cato and others that overregulation caused the best private schools in Louisiana to opt out of the voucher program.   These experts argue that only the most desperate, cash-starved schools participated in the voucher program.  Disastrous results should have been expected.   

Petrilli and Northern admit that Louisiana’s private schools accepting voucher students must use open enrollment instead of their own admissions criteria, may not charge more than the amount of the voucher even though it is about $3,300 less than what the student’s district spends per pupil, and must administer the state test.  According to a 2015 study by American Enterprise Institute, the private school participation rate is only one-third of schools in Louisiana -- much lower than found in most other voucher or tax credit programs. 

Petrilli and Northern disbelieve that participating schools are those which are desperate for cash and students.  Rather they believe that schools are concerned about the limits placed on their regular admissions standards.  The AEI study also cited concern about creeping future regulations for participating schools. A 2013 Fordham study found that restrictions on student admissions and religious practices are more likely to deter school participation than are requirements for academic standards, testing, and accountability.  

Then Petrilli and Northern deliver the zinger.  Just maybe private schools really don’t want to accept poor students who will create shortfalls in their funding.

Or just maybe it’s because there are disparate philosophies in play:  big government with central planning vs. free market.  Fordham’s Chester Finn in a 2014 commentary said, “… it’s insane to expect this marketplace to yield quality control, efficiency, and accountability for educational outcomes.”

For decades we have had a highly regulated education monopoly. How successful has that been in providing a quality education with efficiency and accountability?  Isn’t that why parents are demanding school choice?

Copyright ©2016 Carole Hornsby Haynes, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

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