No, School Choice Will Not Destroy Private Schools

Liam Siegler | February 7, 2024

(The Lion) — School choice policies will not destroy the future of private education, despite some claims to the contrary.

Interviewed in a recent piece for Fox News, President and Founder of United States Parents Involved in Education Sheri Few argued that government money in private schools will likely “destroy” them. In her view, private schools invite future regulation when they accept state funds through ESA accounts and similar programs.

Once dependent on this money, she argues, they may potentially be put in a position where “they’re stuck having to make a choice of either closing their doors or compromising their values in order to continue to accept the federal and state funding.” 

Fear of hostile government intervention is certainly understandable. Many families choose homeschooling and private Christian schools specifically to avoid the overreach in public education. 

However, this type of objection to the school choice movement ignores several key facts. The potential dangers, of course, shouldn’t be ignored. But they are overstated. 

Even before the school choice movement started gaining traction, private schools were already being regulated. States regulate school standards, teacher certification, testing, transportation and homeschooling, to name a few common areas, the details of which vary from state to state.  

Some states are certainly more hostile to private education than others. In her comments to Fox, Few pointed to Katie Hobbs’ plan to further regulate Arizona’s ESA program. But rather than demonstrate why school choice is inherently dangerous, Arizona shows us why responsible policymaking is more important than ever.  

As Corey DeAngelis and Jason Bedrick argue, “funding need not come with burdensome regulations.” 

School choice policies are carefully written to avoid the potential for harmful interventions. Arizona’s ESA statute, for example, explicitly states that a school “shall not be required to alter its creed, practices, admissions policy or curriculum” for accepting ESA students. 

The driving philosophy of the school choice movement is to “fund students, not systems.”  Programs are designed to fund families, not directly apportion money to schools. There are no strings attached. 

As DeAngelis and Bedrick also point out, states with greater educational freedom tend to be the least restrictive to homeschooling and private schools. State overreach is not typically an issue where the appetite for educational freedom flourishes. And states with hostile actors like Hobbs highlight the need to stay vigilant, especially when the policies at stake benefit families. Opposition is never a good reason to retreat. 

As another cautionary tale, Few cites the 1984 Supreme Court case Grove City v. Bellwhich led to a bill requiring recipients of federal money to adhere to civil rights law.  

But Few’s fear is misplaced. The Grove City Bill applies to federal funding. Private schools do not invite any new regulations by accepting state dollars unless the program were to specifically come with strings attached (which, as mentioned before, is not the case with current school choice programs). Thankfully, private schools do not have to fear federal regulations. 

As for the potential for state regulations to harm religious schools, it is important to realize that any regulation is bound to the Constitution.  

For example, the Free Exercise Clause protects against infringements on the religious character and practices of religious schools. State law is subject to the First Amendment. Governments can’t force schools to compromise their values through funding mechanisms such as vouchers and ESAs. Any attempt to do so could be challenged in court on religious liberty grounds. 

Though there is always good reason to be mindful of the potential pitfalls in any public policy, it would be a mistake to let fear prevent good laws from helping the families who need them most. 

School choice policies are tangibly benefiting students. It is important we fight for them.