The emerging school choice consensus

Andy Matthews

Every week, NPRI President Andy Matthews writes a column for NPRI's week-in-review email. If you are not getting our emails, which contain our latest commentaries and news stories, you can sign up here to receive them.

The emerging school choice consensus

Last week I used this space to talk about a report NPRI had just released, which focused on the many ways Nevada policymakers could improve the state’s failing education system without spending more money. The report offers an abundance of policy recommendations — 33 of them, in fact — and each is highly meritorious.  

But of all the policy options available, there’s one that stands out above all others in its potential to help the state realize profound gains in student achievement. What Nevada needs, ultimately, is school choice.

As Geoff Lawrence, the report’s author, writes:

The evidence that school choice is among the most cost-effective strategies for elevating student outcomes … grows by the day. In particular, school choice tends to benefit minority students and students from low-income households. No serious academic study has ever found that school choice harms any group of students.

The evidence to which Geoff refers, of course, simply confirms what ought to be obvious. Allowing parents to choose which schools their children attend would force schools to compete for enrollees and tuition dollars, and would therefore give them a powerful incentive to provide a high-quality education. It’s a concept that we apply, without even thinking about it, to nearly every other facet of our lives. Just consider how absurd it would be if the government began dictating, based on your zip code, which restaurants, shopping malls or movie theaters you could go to. Do you think your local Applebee’s would work as hard to satisfy you if management knew you had no choice but to eat there?

Fortunately, the arguments for school choice — advanced most articulately and passionately by the late Dr. Milton Friedman and echoed today by devotees of the movement he inspired — are resonating. And not just among those identified with the political Right, the constituency one might expect to most naturally gravitate toward policies rooted in market-based principles.

Earlier this year, we at NPRI hosted a screening of a film called “The Ticket,” which documented a number of successful school-choice programs around the country that have drawn backing from Republicans and Democrats alike. These stories indeed reflect a trend that has seen the fight for school choice garner support from across partisan lines.

Among the latest to join the chorus is a group of high-profile figures from the sports and entertainment industries. While we’re used to celebrities unabashedly speaking their minds on political issues, typically the views expressed come from the Left (a source of constant irritation for many of us). However, the American Federation for Children has released a series of videos featuring the likes of sports stars Jalen Rose, Lisa Leslie and Deion Sanders, TV host/entertainer Kathie Lee Gifford and actress/producer Vivica A. Fox, among others, expressing their support for giving parents more choice in how and where their kids are educated.

Promoting education reform generally, and school choice specifically, has been at the heart of NPRI’s mission since our founding nearly 23 years ago, and it’s heartwarming to see this effort attract such widespread support. There’s a lot of momentum on our side — and we need to keep pressing onward.

You’ve probably seen some of our emails on this already, but I want to take a moment to remind you again that in a couple of weeks, we will be holding a couple of policy luncheons — one in Las Vegas (July 30) and one in Reno (Aug. 1) — that will focus on the power of school choice to transform lives and provide hope to those children most in need.

The speaker at each event will be Virginia Walden-Ford, a long-time school-choice advocate who has seen first-hand the ability of educational freedom to create opportunities for our nation’s youth, and particularly the most underserved members of the population. Her story is truly inspiring, and I hope you’ll read this profile of her that Townhall published a few years back. It’s the kind of courage and determination she has displayed that will ultimately ensure that we win on this critical issue.

And of course, I hope you’ll take the time to attend one of our luncheons and hear her story in person. I assure you, you won’t be disappointed. You can register for either event here.

It’s said often, but it’s worth repeating. School choice isn’t about Republicans or Democrats, or even conservatives or liberals. It’s about our children and their hopes for the future. We’ve made great progress on this issue, and I hope you’ll join us in a couple of weeks to help us keep it going.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you soon.

Andy Matthews
NPRI President

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