TERESA MULL: The demand for private schools is up, so let parents choose

As Americans have slowly recovered from the now 10-year-old recession, enrollment in private schools has increased dramatically.

“Between 2013 and 2015, enrollment at private schools increased 7 percent nationally, according to a biennial count of private school students released in August by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics,” the Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, reported in October.

The National Center for Education Statistics report coincides with a survey released this week by EdChoice, which found the “schooling options military parents are able to access now don’t match what they want for their children.”

When given the opportunity, parents across the country flock to private schools, and military families, say they’d like to participate in school choice programs, too. So why are education choice programs still available to so few U.S. families?

As the results of the EdChoice survey suggest, people still don’t know much about school choice. Even worse, it’s likely what they do know has been tainted by teachers unions’ misinformation campaigns, which are crafted to convince the public that school choice is out to “destroy” public education for needy kids and that private schools are often not held accountable and aren’t as good as public ones.

First, why should a reasonable person listen to a group of people that’s doing such a poor job of educating America’s children? Pew Research reported earlier in 2017, “U.S. students’ academic achievement still lags that of their peers in many other countries.”

Second, government employees are going to do everything in their power to make people believe what they have to offer is better than what non-government schools provide.

Public school teachers aren’t even sold on their own schools. “A fifth of all school teachers with school-age children has placed a child in a private school,” and nearly three out of 10 have used one or more of the main alternatives to the traditional public school — private school, charter school and homeschooling,” two EducationNext scholars reported in 2016.

“School teachers are much more likely to use a private school than other parents,” the EducationNext report adds.

“No less than 20 percent of teachers with school age children, but only 13 percent of non-teachers, have sent one or more of their children to private school. Teachers are also just as likely to make use of a charter school or to homeschool their child as other parents.”

Despite the fact many teachers choose not to subject their children to failing public schools, they continue to insist the rest of us ought to send our kids to their lousy institutions. And for what purpose? In most cases, so they can keep their jobs, many of which are benefit-laden and relatively cushy.

Families yearn for the same freedom in education they enjoy in nearly every other aspect of their lives. Public school teachers, though most of them would never admit it, also want education freedom, but too many teachers are concerned about themselves to allow families — even military families — to have the liberty to opt for educational alternatives. Lawmakers should stop standing in parents’ way and give to regular folks what many teachers already have: the freedom to send their kids to any school they want.

Teresa Mull is a research fellow in education policy at The Heartland Institute.