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A major criticism of school choice programs is that private schools receiving tax dollars are not held accountable to taxpayers. Indeed, a Texas House committee recently released a report that recommended that transparency and accountability be a part of any school choice program. If tax dollars are going to be funneled to private schools, the argument goes, then those schools should be accountable to elected officials. In truth, all schools — both government-operated and private — should be accountable to parents and students.
In their role as taxpayers, politicians or education bureaucrats, individuals are not the consumers of education services. Taxpayers pay the bills. Politicians and education bureaucrats set the rules. But parents and students are a school’s customers.
Some will claim that government schools are accountable to parents. Certainly, parents can attend school board meetings and speak to the principal and teachers. However, having the ability to voice one’s concerns is not what defines accountability. To be accountable means to be held responsible for the results of one’s actions.
If parents are dissatisfied with their child’s government school, they have little recourse other than complaining. They can’t do what we do when a barber, grocer or mechanic doesn’t satisfy our needs and desires — take our money and business elsewhere. Many, if not most, parents are locked into the government school system, even if it doesn’t meet their child’s needs. They can’t hold educators accountable for the quality of the education their child is receiving.
Vouchers and similar programs enable parents to hold educators accountable. If a school, whether government or private, isn’t performing to the parent’s satisfaction, they can move their child to a different school. They can hold educators accountable for the education of their child.
Economically, accountability is possible only when we have the freedom to choose. When we have freedom of choice, we can hold a restaurant, a nail salon or a retailer accountable. Freedom of choice enables us to purchase the products and services that best meet our needs and desires and to shun those businesses that don’t. School choice programs expand freedom of choice.
Those who demand that private schools be held accountable to politicians and bureaucrats ignore the fact that those same government officials have long been the overseers of the state’s government schools. They gloss over the fact that parents who are desperate for choices want to remove their children from the clutches of politicians and bureaucrats. Those parents are dissatisfied with the standards, rules and curriculums dictated by government officials.
Holding private schools to the same standards as government schools would essentially eliminate the distinction between private and government schools. All schools would essentially become government schools. All schools would be governed by the standards imposed by politicians and education bureaucrats. This will not improve schools in the state.
Few would argue that schools — government or private — should not be accountable for their performance. The fundamental question is: To whom should they be accountable? Should it be elected officials? Or should it be parents and students?
School choice empowers parents to hold schools accountable and gives parents more control over what their children are taught. Parents can choose a school that is more aligned with their values. If they disagree with the values promoted at one school, they have the ability to find another school more to their liking.
Florida, which has universal school choice, provides an example of empowering parents. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently announced that a record 430,000 applications had been received for the state’s tax credit scholarship program. Those parents and students now have the ability to hold schools accountable. As one parent put it, “Under the previous system, schools had no incentive to perform better. Now, parents are able to utilize the scholarship in order to get their children a more robust education.”
Texans agree that we want all children to receive a high-quality education. Expanding the government’s education monopoly will not achieve that goal. Expanding freedom of choice will. Freedom of choice will empower parents and students to hold schools accountable.
Brian Phillips is the founder of the Texas Institute for Property Rights.