By Jonathan Butcher
Goldwater Institute

PHOENIX – Today, 17 states and the District of Columbia allow children to use scholarships to choose between public and private schools, regardless of what public school their zip code assigns them to.

butcherTwenty years ago, only one state offered parents this freedom: Wisconsin.

Since 2000, the number of children using a scholarship to attend a private school has increased 748 percent according to the Alliance for School Choice’s 2012-13 Yearbook. You read that right: 748 percent. Nearly 250,000 children attend private schools around the country using an education savings account, voucher, or tax credit scholarship.

How did we go from zero children free to choose their school to 250,000 in 18 different parts of the country?

The answer: Choice works. A study of the voucher program in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, found that enrolling in the voucher program “increases the likelihood of a student graduating from high school, enrolling in a four-year college, and persisting in college by 4-7 percentage points.”

A similar program in Washington, D.C. “significantly improved students’ chances of graduating from high school.”

Milwaukee’s program was the first of its kind, anywhere. Now, the program has expanded to children in Racine, along with 16 other states and D.C. that have voucher or tax credit scholarship systems. Washington, D.C.’s scholarships are also the first of their kind—a federally-funded private school tuition voucher program for elementary and high school students. The success of these programs helped inspire other states to give parents the same freedom and it is revolutionizing education all over the country.

Milwaukee and Washington, D.C.’s programs were both a “first” and had requirements that researchers from a university or research institution evaluate the programs. The positive results for children in these programs inspired lawmakers around the country who then gave more children the chance at a great education.

Arizona’s education savings accounts are also the first of their kind, so it’s only reasonable that legislators ask researchers to conduct a similar evaluation on the program’s effectiveness. What better way to convince parents and lawmakers that education savings accounts can give every child the chance at a great education than to show how well they work?

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