Charter School Paradox Makes Case For Adding Private Educational Choice

A quick hit this afternoon. The Cato Institute’s Adam Schaeffer today has released the summary of a new data analysis by RAND Corporation economist Richard Buddin, seeking to explain what he calls “The Charter School Paradox”:

On average, charter schools may marginally improve the public education system, but in the process they are wreaking havoc on private education. Charter schools take a significant portion of their students from private schools, causing a drop in private enrollment, driving some schools entirely out of business, and thereby raising public costs while potentially diminishing competition and diversity in our education system overall.

I’m still wrapping my little mind around the information presented and what he has to say, but let’s clear up one thing right away: being anti-charter is not the answer. But Cato has made a case to be considered, namely that learning will better thrive, and be more cost-effective, with both a healthy private education sector and adequate choices within the public system.

Why? Because charters aren’t always providing enough competition with traditional public schools and, especially in urban areas, are drawing a significant number of students from private schools. More students enrolled in public charters rather than private schools also means more tax dollars required to fund education, often without a correlating result.

The prescription for introducing private tuition tax credits alongside charters is similar to the conclusions made in a recent report co-authored by Greg Forster. However, Forster makes the point that greater innovation is taking place in the charter sector than in the private sector. All to say that more still needs to be unraveled here.

In response to Cato’s new piece, Forster is especially intrigued with the apparent finding that “the families choosing boutique suburban charters weren’t much impressed with their private school options.”

While the data are new and intriguing, the concern and the argument have been made before. In a 2007 Catholic Journal article, Matt Ladner highlights how Arizona balanced the growth of charters with a tax credit system that broadly expanded choice by preserving private options.

The limited high-quality academic research we’ve seen shows several promising benefits to tax credit programs, particularly following Florida’s example. So where’s Colorado on the issue? Last year’s attempt (HB 1048) got stuck in the sausage maker and died.

But youthful hope springs eternal….