For decades, critics have hammered away at U.S. elementary and secondary education as a public monopoly that resists innovation. By contrast, many Western European nations have subsidized free parental choice among private and public schools. However, with startling speed, the education monopoly has begun crumbling in the USA. More and more, America is joining Europe in pondering the advantages of government being a purchaser rather than provider of educational services, and of families benefiting as consumers able to choose from a wide array of services.
During 2002, three major developments have combined to advance true private choice in U.S. K- 12 education: (1) the bold venture in privatization of troubled public schools in Philadelphia, (2) the historic June 27 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of letting parents use public vouchers to send their children to private, religious schools (so long as other school choices are offered), and (3) the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which for the first time in the Title I program uses public-school choice and private tutoring as instruments of accountability for failing schools – thereby empowering families who have been stuck with failing public schools.
This paper tracks the progress of these major steps toward what Chief Justice Rehnquist called “true private choice.” It also discusses new developments in Maine, Minnesota, Ohio, Washington, the District of Columbia, and elsewhere.
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