Posts Tagged ‘school choice’

Saving Education and Tennessee’s Future

Saving Education and Tennessee’s Future

Beacon Senior Fellow Jonathan Butcher’s op-ed was published in the Memphis Commercial Appeal explaining the benefits of school choice. You can read the initial piece here if you subscribe to the Commercial Appeal, otherwise the full text is below.

A public school teacher will have a lot to say about the students in her classroom. A public school teacher who is also a mom will know plenty about her class and, especially, the children that are uniquely hers.

Julie Lopez, a teacher and a mom, could tell that her son was not going to fit in the typical classroom. An early reader, Joseph was ready for schoolwork before entering kindergarten, but Julie feared he would act out if his teacher spent more time on certain subjects.

“According to his birthdate, he would have started kindergarten when he was five,” she says, adding, “I couldn’t see him patiently waiting (in a classroom).” Julie chose to home school Joseph, becoming one of the 9 million families across the United States who home school, enroll their child in a private school, select a charter school or virtual school, or some combination of these to educate their children.

Approximately three out of four school-aged children in the U.S. attend an assigned local public school. New learning options have not made traditional schools disappear. It’s a safe bet that traditional schools will continue to have their doors open even as more families choose other educational options. Remarkably, a survey of 23 empirical studies on school choice programs’ effects on traditional school students finds that in every study but one, public school student outcomes improved as more of their peers chose a different learning experience. (The remaining study found no impact on public school student achievement.)

Student achievement and parent satisfaction in places where parents can choose how a child is educated are remarkably stable. Lawmakers should want ideas like these that give every child the chance to achieve, not just children from families who can afford a better school or move to a new neighborhood.

Recent news about new charter school operators coming to Shelby County has some parents afraid that “outsiders” are coming to run their child’s school. Yet educational options do not have to pit one school against another.

The Beacon Center of Tennessee’s new guide, “Allowing Children to Dream Big: School Choice Opportunities for Tennessee Families,” explains that families across Tennessee are making choices about where and how their children are educated. From private school scholarships here in Memphis to charter schools in Nashville, parents across the state are choosing to find the best possible way to educate their children.

For more than 20 years, charter schools and private school scholarships have helped children assigned to failing schools around the U.S. find better opportunities. Still, traditional schools enroll students every August. Just because some parents who could not afford private school tuition or did not have a charter school in their neighborhood now do have these alternatives does not mean that every public school is going to close. These alternatives give new choices to families who didn’t have good schools and learning options before.

But there is more work to be done. In Arizona and Florida, parents can use education savings accounts to combine several quality education alternatives to help their children. With an account, the state deposits public funds in a parent’s bank account for use on educational products and services. Students can combine public school classes, virtual classes, college courses and private school tuition, along with distance-learning options, to create a challenging, unique education. Families use a debit card to make purchases.

For Julie Lopez, like parents all over the state, deciding how her children learn is an important responsibility.

“I expected it to give me more control over what my kids knew and were exposed to, and I expected it to yield good fruit in their personalities,” Julie says. “All of those expectations have been met.”

Jonathan Butcher is education director at the Goldwater Institute and a senior fellow with the Beacon Center of Tennessee.
December 3rd, 2014 | Commentary, Feature

The Three New M’s Of Education Reform: Minorities, Millennials And Moderates

The Three New M’s Of Education Reform: Minorities, Millennials And Moderates

During the campaign season, there are plenty of politicians promising to better education by increasing spending. What they don’t tell taxpayers is that the additional funding will come from their wallets—and it is unlikely to improve achievement.

Given this poor track record, candidates should be talking about the future of education in terms of three new “M’s,” and money is not one of them.

Minority Students

Minorities are not the minority in public schools anymore. This school year, minority students will outnumber white students for the first time. One-third of Hispanic students do not finish high school, and achievement gaps persist between Hispanic and black students and their white peers. Just 7 percent of black students scored at the proficient level in math in the latest national comparison, compared to 33 percent of white students.

Today we can document the devastating results of these gaps. Black men without a high school diploma are more likely to be in prison than to have a job. Approximately 75 percent of Hispanic immigrant adults only have a high school degree or less. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for individuals with a high school degree or less is double the rate for those with at least some college education.

Every child should have the chance at a great education, not just those who can afford a private school or extra tutoring. Lawmakers must focus on creating better options for all children, especially those that the traditional system has not served well.


Adults of the millennial generation are tomorrow’s parents—not to mention taxpayers for at least the next 40 years. The cost of education is going to take on a whole new meaning for this generation, especially because they will also be saddled with paying for the federal debt thanks for the increasing costs of Social Security and Medicare. To make matters worse, these recent college graduates carry an average college loan debt of $30,000.

Finding high-quality, lower-cost education opportunities for their children will be paramount. Flexible alternatives to assigned public schools, like education savings accounts, allow parents to choose from private or online schools, along with personal tutors and individual college classes creating a unique experience for their children without breaking the bank. Also, with this option, public funds are deposited into a dedicated bank account and families use a debit card to make education purchases. Lawmakers in Arizona and Florida have made the accounts available to parents in their states; each is worth approximately 90 percent of what the state typically spends from taxpayer resources on public schools.

A survey of Arizona parents using the accounts finds that 90 percent report being “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with their experience so far, even among parents that were “very satisfied” with their previous public school.

Millennials have grown up with more choices about their day-to-day lives. They are used to adapting to new technologies, both at home and in the workplace, so they will expect innovative learning options for their children.

Moderate Voters

Put simply, there are more of them. Earlier this year, a Gallup poll found that 42 percent of Americans “identified as political independents” (the highest in 25 years). Outside of the bluest or reddest states, these independent voters will be the ones who swing elections. Pew Center data find that legal immigrants who traditionally vote Democrat will account for some 25 percent of the electorate in the next 20 to 30 years—more than double the same figure from the 2012 election. (It should be noted that in 2012, 71 percent of Hispanics voted for President Obama.)

While Democrats, calling themselves “pro-education voters,” have historically supported more education spending and other efforts like smaller class sizes, opinions are changing. A recent nationally representative survey found broad support for giving parents options for their children’s education over their assigned schools. Twice as many respondents said they support public charter schools over those who were opposed. Half of respondents favored school vouchers for all children, compared to 39 percent opposed.

And once respondents were told how much it costs to reduce class sizes, support for class-size reduction dropped from 46 percent to 35 percent. Nearly as many respondents favored buying new books and technology.

Money isn’t the “M” that candidates should be focused on. Education’s future lies in thoughtful consideration of these three other M’s.

Jonathan Butcher is education director at the Goldwater Institute and a senior fellow at the Beacon Center.

*This article originally appeared in Forbes.

October 22nd, 2014 | Beacon Blog, Feature, Recent News

Beacon Calls for More Educational Freedom in Tennessee

Beacon Calls for More Educational Freedom in Tennessee

It is time for Tennessee to embrace the hope that school choice offers to families across our state. Parents with children from all walks of life, economic conditions, and ethnicities have banded together in support of greater educational opportunities. Not only do opportunity scholarships provide new pathways to higher achievement, but they also create more resources for children in our public education system. In fact, Tennessee’s opportunity scholarships are a tide that lifts all boats. In a sea of change with innovative methods of learning on the horizon, Tennessee parents deserve the freedom to explore the education frontier and choose the academic path that best suits their child.

Below are the contents of our education reform package, a comprehensive plan for school choice in Tennessee:

Special Report: Allowing Children to Dream Big - In our school choice options bookletBeacon Senior Fellow Jonathan Butcher puts school choice success stories, available educational options, and application instructions in the hands of Tennessee families.

Policy Report: Saving Education - Our recent study shows that a voucher program would not just benefit students leaving the public school system, but also students staying in public schools.

Faces of Freedom: The Choice is Ours - Beacon believes every child deserves a good education, and the only way to achieve that goal is through school choice.

Opinion: Stupid Is as Stupid Does: We Need to Save Education - Beacon Director of Policy Lindsay Boyd explains that choice is the real solution to save education.

Infographic: School Choice – These graphics show the broad support for school choice among different demographic groups and how Tennessee stacks up to neighboring states when it comes to school choice options.

Click the graphic below for exclusive school choice content. You will need a password to access this section.








October 15th, 2014 | Feature, Policy

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