School Choice: The Best Solution to Reducing Poverty


By Robert Enlow

Whether it is youth here or youth abroad, student unrest seems to be growing in our most uneducated communities. Data shows an increased correlation between a lack of education and crime, poverty and social welfare programs.

As policymakers and elected officials reconvene in state Capitols this winter to tackle our nation's greatest challenges, it may seem that the economy always rises to the top. But economic problems will only be solved if we address education. And that means, doing something big and bold.

What is surprising and sad in this debate is that much of the inequalities in America could be reduced or even prevented if students had greater educational options that offered them a brighter future.

Instead, most students are assigned a school based solely on their address. If a child is born to a middle class family, that family often moves to a neighborhood with a good school. Affluent families also do the same, choosing the finest public or schools or private schools in their state. But for poor and working class families, families with one adult at home, or families where a parent is sick or can't work, they are stuck with the school assigned to them, whether it works or not.

There is a solution; a solution not only to poor quality education but also to the other issues of income inequality, wage disparity and civil unrest. And that solution is school choice.

This week we are celebrating the fifth anniversary of National School Choice Week (NSCW). There will be almost 11,000 events across the country highlighting the concept of Nobel laureate Milton Friedman that all children should have educational freedom and attend a school that works for them.

As long ago as 1955, Nobel economist Milton Friedman was concerned that K-12 education in America was failing in responsibility to help those less fortunate. The founder of the school choice concept said, "The education, or rather the uneducation, of black children from low income families is undoubtedly the greatest disaster area in public education and its most devastating failure. This is doubly tragic for it has always been the official ethic of public schooling that it was the poor and the oppressed who were its greatest beneficiaries."

As we mark NSCW, parents and advocates in 50 states and Washington, D.C. celebrate options including charter schools, magnet schools, home schooling, private school and online learning. They want to remove barriers so parents can decide which educational environment works best for their child.

Some children may thrive in parochial schools because they need discipline and nurturing not found in other educational settings. Other children may thrive in a music or arts themed magnet school. The opportunities are endless if government stops creating a one-size-fits-all educational model that has failed too many families and destroyed too many young lives.

The potential benefits to all Americans are significant. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, our nation's economy could gain $1.2 billion if we increased the graduation rate among black male students by just 5 percentage points, as those young men would work join the workforce. Now consider this: studies of the voucher program in our nation's capital found that school choice increased graduation rates by 21 points.

The Alliance for Excellent Education notes also that states spend an average of $12,643 annually per year to educate a student in a public school compared to $28,323 to house an inmate. Given that 67 percent of inmates in state prisons did not complete high school, we are paying on the back end of education instead of the front end.

Imagine if we gave parents some or all of those educational dollars to use on the educational setting of their choice so their child could earn a diploma and have a successful future.

This is why National School Choice Week is so important. It offers millions of people across the country the chance to shout the positive message of school choice. It is a message that can bridge the wage and income gap, a message that can lead to less social unrest and a message that can lead to a healthier and wealthier world where all children matter.

Robert Enlow

Robert Enlow

Robert Enlow is President and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the legacy foundation of Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman and his wife Rose.
01 29, 2015
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