Using School Choice: Analyzing How Parents Access Educational Freedom

Liam Julian

Greg Forster
The Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation
October 2005

School choice starts with legislation, but it doesn't end there. Each choice program's success depends upon implementation, which is handled by school districts and state or local authorities who can aid the program with simple enlistment procedures or stifle it with convoluted participation policies. This Friedman Foundation study assesses how easy it is for students to participate in each of the nation's fourteen K-12 school-choice programs (choice, here, meaning vouchers, tax-funded scholarships, and tax credits and deductions - charter schools are conspicuously absent). Ratings are based on an analysis of eligibility criteria and application processes. The study also examines each program's history, noting the number of eligible students who participate year-to-year. The results? As one might expect, it's easy for parents and students to participate in some choice programs and hard to take part in others. Milwaukee's voucher system, for example, is rated "excellent." The city sets no application deadline, and students are admitted on a rolling basis. Interested parents can access application forms online or pick them up from participating schools. Finally, students need not reapply each year. On the other hand, Florida's A+ voucher program, rated "poor," is faulted for its procedural burdens. Participation is limited to students in schools whose schools have received an "F" grade (based on test scores) twice in four years. After the state announces school grades, parents of eligible students have two weeks to complete the web-only application process. The report finds that short window especially restraining. Author Greg Forster terms it "a major procedural burden," and writes that parents "do not even know whether they are eligible until school grades come out, at which point the two-week clock begins ticking." Perhaps that's why Milwaukee's voucher participation has skyrocketed over the past five years, and Florida's has not. Interested readers will be rewarded by this simple yet informative report. Find it here.

More By Author