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    What Is School Choice? Everything You Need to Know

    By Cece Gilmore

    Cece Gilmore is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cece earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she was the education editor as well as a published staff reporter at Downtown Devil. Cece was also the co-host of her own radio show on Blaze Radio ASU.

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    Reviewed by Cari Shultz

    Cari Schultz is an Educational Review Board Advisor at Scholarships360, where she reviews content featured on the site. For over 20 years, Cari has worked in college admissions (Baldwin Wallace University, The Ohio State University, University of Kentucky) and as a college counselor (Columbus School for Girls).

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: May 16th, 2024
    What Is School Choice? Everything You Need to Know

    If you check the news, “school choice” is a hot topic of discussion. There are groups for and against school choice, but many people have no idea what school choice actually is. In short, school choice allows families to send their children to the schools of their choosing. That’s the simple definition. There is much more to learn about school choice, including the types of schools involved, what states offer it, and how parents ensure that their children receive funding at the schools of their choice. Keep reading our school choice guide to learn more!

    What exactly is school choice? 

    First, a little history here! Historically, students attended the public schools that correlated with the districts they lived in. That changed in 1990 when the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) formed. The MPCP was the first modern school choice program in the United States. Moving forward, every state has some form school choice, and since 2010, states offering private school vouchers have doubled. 

    So what is the definition of school choice? School choice allows public funds (mainly tax dollars) to be allocated to families so they can choose schools that are the best fit for their children. The concept aims to level the playing field through access to greater educational opportunities for all students. 

    Here are some of the schooling options that fall under “choice”: 

    School choice funding

    There are different types of school choice funding resources, including the following: 

    • Education saving accounts (ESAS) 
    • Individual tax credits and deductions 
    • School vouchers
    • Tax credit education savings accounts (ESAS) 
    • Tax credit scholarships

    All of these school choice options are ways in which students can receive fully-funded access to different types of educational institutions for free or a heavily discounted price. 

    Breaking down the different types of school choice

    Education savings accounts (ESAS)  

    ESAs is a savings account that is government-authorized and filled with public funds. 

    The ESAs allows parents to withdraw their children from a public school district and then access this government-authorized savings account with restricted but multiple uses. 

    The funds are delegated to be used to cover tuition and fees of different educational institutions including the following: 

    • Private school
    • Online learning programs
    • Community college costs 
    • Higher education expenses
    • Any approved learning services

    Currently 16 states offer ESAs

    Individual tax credits and deductions 

    Tax credit and deductions allow parents to receive state tax relief for approved educational expenses. These expenses can include the following: 

    Currently there are 9 states with individual tax credit/deductions:

    Also see: What is a parochial school?

    School vouchers

    A school voucher is a program in which public funding is set aside to help parent’s fund their children’s private education. 

    Under a school voucher program, funds allocated to a school district would be given to a participating family in the form of a voucher. This voucher would then be used to pay partial or full tuition for their child’s private school, including both religious and non-religious options. 

    Therefore, school vouchers can help low-income families afford to send their children to nearby private schools without worrying about the tuition. 

    Currently 16 states utilize school vouchers: 

    Tax-credit education savings account (ESAS) 

    Tax credit education savings accounts are a type of savings account in which taxpayers receive tax credits when they donate to nonprofit organizations. Families can then use these funds to pay for education-related expenses. 

    Currently only 2 states offer tax-credit ESAS:

    Tax-credit scholarships

    Tax-credit scholarships allow taxpayers to receive tax credit when they have donated to nonprofits that provide scholarships for private schools. 

    Currently there are 22 states that offer tax-credit scholarships:

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • “School Choice” offers various options for parents to send their children to schools that differ from their public neighborhood school
    • This can include the availability of other public institutions, such as charter schools and magnet schools, as well as subsidizing a private education
    • Subsidies can come in multiple forms, including tax credits, education savings accounts, and vouchers from the government
    • Your School Choice options will vary significantly based on the state in which you live. Make sure to check resources in your specific state to see what your options are

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    Frequently asked questions about school choice

    How do you apply for school choice programs?

    The application process varies depending on the specific program and its location. However, typically the school choice application process will include providing academic records, proof of residence and other documentation. It is also common for programs to use a lottery system if demand exceeds availability.

    What are some of the main positives of school choice?

    There are many reasons why parents, students, and communities are pro school choice, including academic environment/course offerings, school convenience, and safety. School choice continues to grow in popularity, with some of the most significant growth occurring in 2023 and 2024.

    What are the criticisms of school choice?

    Although there are a lot of positive characteristics of school choice, there are also some negative aspects of the programs. A few main criticisms of school choice are the following: 
    • It diverts funds from public schools which can harm those students
    • May not be accessible to all families
    • Could lead to increased segregation
    • Private and charter schools may not be held to the same standards as public schools 

    It is important that you complete your own thorough research about school choice and come to your own conclusions!

    What role do state and federal governments play in school choice?

    Both state and federal governments play large roles in school choice policies. States typically will regulate charter schools, voucher programs, set eligibility criteria and funding levels. The federal government can influence school choice through legislation and funding programs like the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

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