Debunking some myths about school choice

For thousands of students, news of probation for Atlanta Public Schools was yet another time that adults key to their education have let them down. And for too many parents, unable to afford other options, it was one more reminder their child’s educational future is too tightly bound by their ZIP code.

National School Choice Week begins Sunday, and the urgency of extending truly equal opportunity for all students — whether in Atlanta or elsewhere — is only growing. Arguments to the contrary rely largely on myths, such as:

1. School choice amounts to “stealing” money from public schools.

Whether you talk about publicly funded charter schools or vouchers for use at any type of school, this objection comes up. It’s wrong-headed.

State-approved charter schools get no more money per student than the local system spends. If one of XYZ School’s 100 students leaves to attend a charter, XYZ will have 99 percent as much funding as before, for 99 percent as many kids.

Yes, fixed costs will remain. But they are the part of school budgets that most need scrutiny. Georgia has even more school systems (186) than it has counties (159), and more can be done to cut administrative expenses and share services to gain efficiencies.

Vouchers are an even better deal for local systems. Georgia’s existing voucher program, for special-needs children, will pay private-school tuition for them. But it won’t cover more than what the state pays traditional public schools per pupil. And the local system retains the locally raised revenue it would have spent on those children.

2. The school-choice movement is for rich kids.

News flash: Rich kids already have school choice. Their families can afford to pay for private school, or to move to a better-performing school district even if housing there is more expensive. School choice is for those families that can’t afford other options. New charter schools tend to pop up in middle- to lower-income neighborhoods.

But, just to be sure, voucher bills introduced in Georgia have included a stipulation that the child attended public schools for the entire previous academic year. A student at, say, Westminster wouldn’t be able to enroll in North Atlanta High School for a week, then move back and collect the voucher.

3. Vouchers won’t cover the full cost of a private education, so they won’t really help poor kids.

A voucher tied to state funding for public-school students would be $5,000 to $7,000 a year. Such a voucher wouldn’t cover the full cost of attending the most-elite private schools. But the Center for an Educated Georgia reports the average yearly tuition at Georgia’s private schools is about $6,600 — well within range of a voucher.

And basic economics suggests that new schools would open if more students could afford to attend them.

4. School choice will mean an exodus of the “best” kids, leaving public schools to deal with the rest.

Students already doing well are unlikely to leave their current schools. School choice is intended for those students who aren’t doing well but can’t afford to move to a school that might be a better fit for them. Data from current programs across the nation suggest only a small percentage of those eligible for school-choice mechanisms actually use them.

5. Choice won’t come to some (read: rural) areas.

Maybe not at first, though online education is removing geographic barriers. But the difficulty in adding choice everywhere mustn’t keep us from adding it where we can, as soon as we can.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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barking frog

January 21st, 2011
8:18 pm

Any child can attend any private school it wants to, now.
It just can’t attend any public school it wants to.


January 21st, 2011
8:30 pm


Those opposed to vouchers, most notably employees of public schools themselves, will only decry the efforts to enact a voucher system even more loudly than they have in the past. The notion of freeing families from schools that perform poorly scares the dickens out of them. The idea of accountability doesn’t fit into their world view.

I especially appreciate #5 on your list. The folks who are opposed to this will sacrifice doing what is right in the name of their perceived notion of “fairness”.

In the know

January 21st, 2011
8:34 pm

Hello Folks Your tax dollars are already sending public school kids to private schools. It’s called the Goal scholarship. any individual can opt to give a private school money that they may owe the state. so if you owe 2,000 to state of Georgia, you can divert 1000.00 to a private school of your choice. the money goes to a kid enrolling into a private school from public school. It has built up many of the private schools coffers over the last two years while the public schools keep getting major cuts.


January 21st, 2011
9:58 pm

What a horrible article. You only “debunk” the “myths” from a one-sided perspective. Is the ajc becoming FOX news? It seems from this that it really is…

Can you explain why school “choice” failed horribly in Florida? Don’t you think since you are “pro-choice” that it would be important to explore that little fact?

Do some more research and then come back with a fair and balanced (and honest) piece!


January 21st, 2011
10:00 pm

School choice and/or vouchers are for the wealthy. They are being pushed for by those people. Why?

Yes – you are correct that the most wealthy already may send their kids to private school. But, who are you kidding that they DON’T want this? They want to be reimbursed from the tax dollars. It is as simple as that.

THIS will be stealing from the public school money and going to the wealthy people. Anyone with even a pea brain should be able to easily understand AT LEAST this one clear point.


January 21st, 2011
10:02 pm

Kyle – I am a white male, but OMG! Your picture looks just as grimy as the sorry conservative idiots on FOX news! Do all of you people go to the same stylist?

Lee Howell

January 21st, 2011
10:05 pm

Who will administer voucher programs, and how much will it cost? Do the private schools have to be accredited or meet any particular standards? Research has shown that many of the private and charter schools don’t do as well as the neighborhood public schools – if the goal is better education, does that matter?

atlanta mom

January 21st, 2011
10:10 pm

I live in the City of Atlanta. Please give me a list of independent (non church) schools my child in high school can attend for under $7,000. I have attempted to use your, and it keeps bringing up church schools.
And you are right, the rich already have school choice. And when the little darlings misbehave, well gee, the public schools don’t have choice, they have to take them.

atlanta mom

January 21st, 2011
10:12 pm

I have attempted to use the link included in your article(Center for an Educated Georgia ) to find a private school, but the parameters do not seem to engage.


January 21st, 2011
10:28 pm

How many kid,s you have kyle?,Single people should bitch,no kids and they pay for most of it.


January 21st, 2011
10:35 pm

“Reality”…the reason he only debunks the myths about private schools is that that’s where the myths exist. Please understand, and Kyle you should recognize this too, that a voucher program is not intended to pit a private only option vs. a public only option. A real voucher system allows the money to follow the child no matter where the parents end up sending the child. So, the real benefit here is that all schools compete for students. In other words, you have the option to send your child to the best public or private school…of your choice! Competition creates an environment where everyone wins. Especially, the kids. The good schools thrive and the bad schools fail. Let the knife throwing begin!

atlanta mom

January 21st, 2011
10:36 pm

Mr Wingfield,
Can you find out the methodology used to determine that private schools in Georgia average $6,600? Your colleague, Mr Wooten used a similar number 18 months ago, and I asked him the same question, but he never responded. I went to the website Center for an Educated Georgia, which makes that statement, but there is no documentation for the statement.

atlanta mom

January 21st, 2011
10:39 pm

Have you considered that the “good schools” thrive because they pick their students and can throw them out at the drop a hat, and the “bad schools” fail because they are forced to take all comers–even the ones that have no desire to be there?


January 21st, 2011
10:54 pm

It’s a crying shame that “Reality” believes that by poking fun of this guy’s hairstyle, using less-than-educated remarks about vouchers, reasons that the rich push for vouchers, conservatives and Fox News adds to this forum. Sounds a bit desperate to me. In fact, I’ve witnessed public educators do this very thing before. “Reality”, you purport to know why “school choice failed in Florida”! Please grace us with your OPINION on why school choice has “failed” in Florida. Be careful what you spew now. I have many family members, whom have school-aged children, who reside in the state of Florida, and I’ve lived there (until recently) myself. So, I know a thing or two about the transformation of the education system in the state. Please go ahead…


January 21st, 2011
11:11 pm

Atlanta Mom, I can appreciate your question and concern about the children being chosen by the good schools. But again, a real voucher program allows for school choice (whether public or private). The private school still may have that option, but the good public school would not. If you believe your concern to be valid, I have two questions of my own for you. 1.) Explain how Catholic Schools excell in poor, inner city, crime-ridden neighborhoods. These are schools that take the problem kids and the kids that’ve been thrown out of everywhere else. 2.) Explain the trend that occured in Washington, DC recently that allowed kids in problem areas of the city and kids from less-fortunate backgrounds a voucher to attend the school of their choice. The program has since been pulled because of teacher’s union strong-arming and simple politics, but the education of DC’s kids and the overall progress of the system was astounding.


January 22nd, 2011
4:41 am

Ouch…. head hurts now… Shouldn’t of read that. The flaws in your general logic continue to amaze me. You can argue a voucher system is more fair if you choose to, but truth is it will take public funds away from public schools and put it in the hands of people who already are sending kids to private school (and can afford it) already.

The other problem is Charter schools work very differently from locale to locale. Research has shown time and time again that in some cases they work well and in other cases not well at all. Hopefully over time we can home in on what works, but they don’t necessarily require a voucher program that would take money out of public education and put it in the hands of people who already would send their kids to private school.

Mickey McGruder

January 22nd, 2011
4:44 am

That is hilarious, 166 school dist in GA

New Jersey ha 600+

As well NJ has 566 municipalities

I am against school vouchers in any form

but most definitely in favor of all manner of govt and school consolidation

Larry Major

January 22nd, 2011
5:43 am

Item #1 is true for State Chartered Special Schools, but not for state Commission Schools.

The GA Charter Schools Commission calculates the amount Commission School students would have received in local funding had they attended their home school systems, deducts this amount from the state funding earned by students who still attend the home school, and gives this amount to the Commission School in addition to state QBE formula funding. The problem is, the Commission doesn’t use the existing local funding formula law; they use a student per capita average. This ignores the fact that average funding increases as the percentage of Special Ed students (who are funded at a higher rate at both the state and local level) increases. Although this “average” funding method would result in underfunding a Commission School with a high percentage of Special Ed students, both operating Commission School have always had a much lower percentage of Special Ed students than the host school systems. As a result, the Commission deducts more from the host school systems than it would have cost to educate these kids had they attended their home school and Commission Schools are seriously over-funded.

In (rounded) dollar terms, the 200 Ivy Prep students residing in Gwinnett received $300,000 more in funding than Gwinnett would have spent on these kids had they attended GCPS – an amount which was deducted from state funding for kids who do attend GCPS. Note that this method doesn’t change total funding, but allocates it to the wrong schools.

These facts are from documents related to the current litigation, filed with the court under oath and are not in dispute.


January 22nd, 2011
7:23 am

Throw more money at public schools. More money always solves the problem! And hire some more administrators too. We need more analysts to study the problems so we can throw more money at everything!


January 22nd, 2011
7:29 am

Ah, excuse me, you acknowledged one of the biggest concerns relating to “school choice” and then rushed along without any meaningful discussion.

School choice will reduce public school funding without reducing the operating cost of a public school.

Let’s take an example of an eight hundred student elementary school with 38 K-5 classroom. Let’s be generous and say 10% of this school’s population uses “school choice” and takes the money and runs.

This reduces the size of each classroom by less than three students. No savings there as the same number of classrooms and operating costs remain the same.

Transportation. Let’s guess half of these students ride the bus. Since they certainly would not all reside in the same bus route area, no savings there.

Custodians, secretaries, school food service workers? No reduction there. Would there be less grass to cut? Area to landscape? Would the HVAC cost be reduced? How about ancillary positions such as counselors, administrators? Special education personnel reductions? Nope, nope, nope and nope.

The bottom line is that school choice, just as charter schools do, take a small number of students and their state funds but do not reduce the operating cost of a public school.

You are probably not old enough to remember the last effort at “school choice”. It was called “freedom of choice” and was a gimmick used by the state in attempting to avoid the desegregation of public schools in the late 1960s.


January 22nd, 2011
7:54 am

So, Kyle, using your own, flawed arguments, what happens to the bright, lower class children for whom the $7000 a year in tuition ($1000 after vouchers) is NOT “well within reach” ? What planet do you live on? There are thousands of middle class people out of work that can’t even afford food. Are the private schools going to waive tuition for a student that is already on their rolls because the family suddenly can’t afford the difference intuition because their income is sliced in half? There are thousands of poor kids that will never, ever get on that first rung of the ladder without an educations. The vouchers DO take money from the public school system. There are not enough private schools to fill the need (as conservatives see it), in the first place. Where are these kids going to go with these vouchers in hand? I think most public schools do very well, and they could do much better, if the right-wing, conservative, religious groups would stop sucking funding from our educational system at every opportunity. By the way, I am not a teacher, I am blessed to be well off financially, have a college degree (that is worth millions), and without the public school education I received I would still be a red-neck share-cropper like my grandfather, who never had running water, and used an outhouse for a toilet.

Atticus Finch

January 22nd, 2011
8:17 am

Here’s the part I don’t understand: It seems that either education IS the government’s job, meaning that the dollars should go to public schools. Or education IS NOT the government’s job, and they should end all school taxes and let people spend their own money as they see fit. Vouchers seem the worst of both worlds. The government wants to be in and out of education at the same time. Taxing people, then turning the money over to other people to spend at private businesses.
Can someone explain how vouchers make sense?

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January 22nd, 2011
8:40 am

You left out one myth…

School choice makes a difference in student achievement.

Study after study after study has shown no appreciable difference in student achievement once students, or their parents, make a school choice.

Go ahead….I don’t care if we become totally school choice. It’s just the latest fad.


January 22nd, 2011
8:41 am

It’s strking to read Kyle in comparison with Cynthia Tucker. Kyle’s column is about policy. While he is clearly an advocate, you can agree or disagree with his points and be civil. Tucker on the other hand is normally full of anger, slander, malice and prejudice. The comparison is striking.

Lee Howell

January 22nd, 2011
8:51 am

Phillip: in answer to your questions:

1) Discipline and high expectations, combined with the fact that students who don’t meet the disciplinary expectations can be expelled (and will then go to public schools). Please explain why the Catholic schools in “poor, inner city, crime-ridden neighborhoods” are increasingly hard to find, and why many of those in D.C. were converted to public charters. Do you have any information on school performance since that time?

2) You obviously have not read the full research reports on the D.C. voucher program, which found little to no difference in academic performance between children who received vouchers and those who did not. (I also found it interesting that (a) many of the students who received vouchers had already been attending private schools using scholarships, and (b) the students in the worst-performing D.C. public schools were the least likely to even apply for the voucher program.)

poison pen

January 22nd, 2011
8:53 am

WillieRae, I might also add that Tucker just cuts & Pastes most of her articles.


January 22nd, 2011
8:55 am

@ Atticus Finch: that is a very interesting point. good job.


January 22nd, 2011
9:02 am

If the State Of Georgia was competent in running public schools, there would be no mention of vouchers and school choice. This is where the work needs to be done.

John Ellison

January 22nd, 2011
9:05 am

The only way to improve the quality of public education in this country is to ban private schools.

Churchill's MOM

January 22nd, 2011
9:08 am

Tuition for our 2 children at Athens Academy is about $26,000 + monthly fund raising. I would not send my children to a local school system that cost around $6,000. Our children have choice because we can write the check. I am convinced that public schools could cut their administrative cost by 50% and improve the quality of education.

God Bless America... and no one else

January 22nd, 2011
9:19 am

@ Atticus Finch – The same way road money is used by privae contractors to builds roads. The state taxes, then pays business that are more expert in the field to actually do the work.


January 22nd, 2011
9:20 am

There is only handful of schools in the entire APS that are worth of dang, I bet half the positions are basically a jobs program for those who can’t normally get one. If these children can’t get out of them what are they to do ? This has been going on for so long, something else (vouchers or school closings or mass firings of bad teachers and desk jockeys or all of the above) needs to happen before 2011-12 starts.


January 22nd, 2011
9:23 am

And what happens when private school tuition increases the way college tuition has, assisted by Hope?


January 22nd, 2011
9:24 am

FTEs and the money a school receives is not what determines whether the children in a school are successful or not. Money has nothing to do with it. It is not the pay because Public school teachers receive thousands more per year and better benefits than the high majority of Private schools. It is not the resources because Public School classrooms have smart boards, ceiling mounted projectors and some even give each student a laptop. You can pay teachers a million dollars a year, you can take all the money you want and give the schools double the money per child and it still won’t matter. Until people stop being scared to make a change in the way schools handle discipline of students then nothing they ever do will make a difference. Student Discipline is the difference between a successful school and an unsuccessful one.

Billy O

January 22nd, 2011
9:30 am

The real key to education is the parents. Show me a school where all the parents are involved and demand excellence and I’ll show you a quality school. Show me a school where the parents are not engaged and I will show you an average or below average school; and I don’t care where that school is located. It is the parent’s responsibility to make sure their children receive a quality education.

The government has proven over and over again that they are incompentent. Their solution to everything is to throw more money at it. Parents who think that it is the government’s responsibility to educate their kids get what they deserve. The shame of it all is the fact that their children are the ones to suffer the consequences. They have very little chance of success in this life without a good education.


January 22nd, 2011
9:31 am

“2. The school-choice movement is for rich kids.
News flash: Rich kids already have school choice.”

Kyle are you calling for means testing?


January 22nd, 2011
9:40 am

“State-approved charter schools get no more money per student than the local system spends. If one of XYZ School’s 100 students leaves to attend a charter, XYZ will have 99 percent as much funding as before, for 99 percent as many kids.”

lol…economics 101 anybody? So, your package store gives you 23 cans of PBR for the bottle cost on a case?

geez, kyle, even a crack-head knows you get a better deal when you buy more…

Seriously though, having forfeited their cards on military wisdom and Christianity, shouldn’t the right try to hold on to some economic credibility?

Public school employee

January 22nd, 2011
9:42 am

Kyle, the day an independent school accepts a penny of public money it will not longer be an independent school. If it happens I’m going to give private school applications to all my students with discipline problems and when they are rejected or thrown out I’m going to tell them to sue the pants off them. Public schools are super. Unlike private businesses we cannot fire our troublesome clients. What we need is public funding for true alternative education choices within public schools. BTW…I’m a private high school grad. I know what I’m talking about.


January 22nd, 2011
9:43 am

“But, just to be sure, voucher bills introduced in Georgia have included a stipulation that the child attended public schools for the entire previous academic year


January 22nd, 2011
9:44 am

It’s a shell game! Move the kids around and they’ll do better work. Many of the students I had, whose parents wanted to move their kid, were the problem (discipline). So move these students to “a better school” and disrupt its learning environment, and stay one step ahead of the reality that the parents have failed to raise respectful and motivated kids. And let’s not forget the culture of schools, which are simply a microcosm of the cultures they serve. Look at, if you can stand to, the programs these kids watch on television – Teen Moms and the like. Are these idiots what you want as role models for your kid? With all this talk about bringing back civility to our politics, maybe it’s also time to bring it back to what kids watch and play (video games). And yes, teachers could improve as well, what profession is above improvement? In short, let’s quit running from our problems and take a stand and fix them where they exist; but then taking a stand doesn’t seem to be the American way anymore.


January 22nd, 2011
9:45 am

“But, just to be sure, voucher bills introduced in Georgia have included a stipulation that the child attended public schools for the entire previous academic year”

So, all the wealthy families who move their children to private after they leave public elementary or after public middle, which is a ton, are gonna get six grand from the tax-payer for a new media room by the pool?

Public school employee

January 22nd, 2011
9:49 am

Dave…You are 100% correct.


January 22nd, 2011
9:53 am

“But the Center for an Educated Georgia reports the average yearly tuition at Georgia’s private schools is about $6,600 — well within range of a voucher.”

Ignoring for a second that the Center for Educated Georgia has a gold statue of the moron ‘w’ in their courtyard, why do you suppose those Westminster/Marist/Walker/etc don’t send their kids to one of the ‘credible’ $3,000/yr ’schools’ they mention?


January 22nd, 2011
9:54 am

I am an APS mom. I love my APS elementary school….but I still want the option of vouchers! A voucher is there to SUPPLEMENT the education…not allow you to get a free ride! A voucher of $7,000 towards an $18,000/yr school means that a parent only needs to bring in an extra $212 dollars a week throughout the year to pay for a top notch education for their child. That’s an extra $5.30 an hour during a 40 hour work week. What parent wouldn’t be willing to take an odd job, part time job or temp job….or God forbid full time job (for those of us who have been stay at home parents for a while) to pay for their child’s education?

I’m a public school advocate who volunteers 20 hours a week while still working 40 hours a week outside the home. I’ve held every Board position in my PTA. Yet still…..I WANT THE OPTION OF VOUCHERS!!!!

independent thinker

January 22nd, 2011
9:55 am

Here is a myth for you Kyle- We are cutting back teachers and government servicesclaiming that revenue is dropping while taxpayers are given $2,500 tax creditsby the repub legislature for donations to private schools. The total in the bill was projected to be no more than $50 million dollars. That is 50 million dollars of badly needed state revenues for colleges and other state services . I would like of you repubs try to justify that type of government handout in this financial climate.

Public school employee

January 22nd, 2011
10:01 am

Let’s cut to the bottom line. Vouchers are a means of getting around the Brown vs. BOE decision. The GOP will deny it but let’s get real.


January 22nd, 2011
10:03 am

I know this is an alien concept, but private schools work because they are, well, private. Remember this, there is no free money. Government provided vouchers will be accompanied by government red tape and bureaucracy. Public school educrats will do everything in their power to ensure the voucher system fails and will advocate all kinds of onerous regulations and requirements. I think vouchers will result in a three tier school system:

1. The elite privates and others who do not accept vouchers will continue to provide service as they do now. Those elites who do accept vouchers will simply raise tuition enough to filter out the undesirables.

2. The lower and middle tier privates who accept vouchers will soon find themselves buried in mountains of paperwork and become little more than extentions of public schools.

3. The public schools will become the dumping ground for the behavior problems, low achievers, and parents who do not give a crap.

Tell you what, let the State of Ga give a tax credit for those parents who send their children to an accredited private school. That will enable the pro-choice parents the opportunity to get their kids out of the public school grinder and will be revenue neutral (the state can pay the money to the school, or give it to the parent in the form of a tax credit. It would be a wash).

retired early

January 22nd, 2011
10:09 am

Private schools can expel their problem students…public schools are too afraid of the parents to do likewise. One has order…the other…from what many teachers have told me, have constant disruption.
Now, we throw money at the public school teachers to persuade them to stay, while private school teachers are perfectly willing to get 1/2 the salary.
As long as we have locally controlled school districts receiving state allocated funds with no control over how they spend that money…the situation is hopeless. Administrative staff outnumber teachers in many districts. That has got to be addressed…along with teachers salaries. They are bankrupting this state…yet where do our lawmakers look for cuts…the remaining 15% of the rest of state government which is already grossly underfunded. No, our brave lawmakers will never tackle this “sacred cow” called education by eliminating locally controlled schools…to a truly statewide system.
Anyone aware of a state that has statewide control? Speak up.