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GUEST BLOG: School choice for me, but not for thee

The following blog by Dr. James Shuls first appeared on showmeinstitute.org and is reprinted here with permission


Parents want the best for their children. This is especially true when it comes to educational options. Each year, parents of means pay thousands of dollars in tuition at private schools, choose to send their kids to charters or other schools of choice, or even move to be in a better neighborhood or school district—all in order to give their children the benefit of a better education. Low-income parents lack these options. Too often, we tell them that they need to stay in their schools and try to make them better, even while more privileged families leave for greener pastures.

In a recently published paper in the Journal of School Choice: International Research and Reform, “School Choice: The Personal and the Political,” I explore the question of whether parents who support school choice for their children would be willing to support programs that extend the same opportunities to other families. To find out, I convened five focus groups with parents in Kansas City and Saint Louis. A total of 35 parents of school-aged children attended these discussions. My findings were interesting, but not that surprising.

The parents I spoke with strongly supported choice for their own children. In fact, most of their children attended schools of choice. More than 75 percent of the parents in the study either homeschooled or sent their kids to a school outside their traditional public school district. Of the remaining quarter, several sent their children to magnet schools within the traditional school district.

Would they be willing to extend options to other children by supporting a private school choice program? As I write in the paper, “the responses were decidedly mixed.” Many parents who themselves expressed choice—including some who even sent their children to private schools—were not thrilled at the prospect of the government providing financial support for other children to attend those same schools.

The parents in my focus groups expressed four main concerns when it came to private school choice programs. Over the next few days, I’ll take a look at each of these reservations and offer suggestions as to how school choice supporters might bridge the gap with parents like these.

You can find the journal article here (paywall) or an earlier working version here.


James Shuls
Distinguished Fellow of Education Policy

James V. Shuls is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Missouri–St. Louis and Distinguished Fellow in Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute.

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