VOICES: Competition makes public schools better

Editor’s Note: A response from Dayton Public School Board member Jocelyn Rhynard will be published in this paper on Wednesday.

A recent article about the lawsuit challenging the EdChoice program skewed toward a defense of the existing educational bureaucracy rather than prioritizing Ohio’s children. Competition makes all competitors better, as opposed to a government-run monopoly which lacks incentive to improve. The winners in this competition are chosen by the parents, and the “skyrocketing” numbers using EdChoice vouchers (while still only 3% of total Ohio students) suggest those alternative schools are providing a better service. Parents are not foolhardy in making such difficult decisions for their children. And a very important silver lining is that studies in other states with more mature programs (Florida and Indiana, for example) prove that such competition makes the legacy public schools better. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) measurement of student performance for low-income students in 2019 ranks Florida and Indiana tied for number 1 of all 50 states, dramatic improvement from ranks 11 and 22 in 2003, which improvement is clearly attributable to expansive educational choice programs. Competition works.

Springfield Superintendent Bob Hill bemoans the EdChoice money that city schools “lost,” but students transferring to EdChoice-eligible schools means that city schools are educating fewer children, and “revenue per pupil,” which is total tax dollars devoted to public education per student, is approximately $17,500 in Springfield, $26,200 in Dayton, and $16,200 state-wide. The EdChoice voucher is a maximum of $5,550 per K-8 student and $7,500 per 9-12 student. The educational system, taxpayers, are clearly saving money with EdChoice, not losing money.

Superintendent Hill also repeats a common misperception that private schools “send back the students with disabilities or students that do not meet their preconceived mold or are difficult to serve.” Springfield private schools, like most state-wide, are underutilized and generally take all applicants, and Ohio has wisely addressed the extraordinary needs of students with disabilities with the targeted Autism Scholarship and Peterson Special Needs programs.

Wealthy parents have always been able to choose their child’s education; the EdChoice program provides modest financial assistance such that struggling families also have educational alternatives. These struggling families are usually the same whose ZIP code would otherwise lock them into a public school that fails to educate, perpetuating a cycle of poverty. Quality education is the key to a better future and is not limited to public education.

Chris Wilson is founder and trustee of the Wilson Sheehan Foundation.

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