School Choice Guidebook: Why Rankings Matter

For more than ten years, the American Federation for Children has published a thorough guide of the nation’s school choice programs, an invaluable resource for those searching for fast facts about school choice today, as well as specific components of the 54 private school choice programs in 26 states, D.C., and now Puerto Rico. I’m excited about the 2017-18 School Choice Guidebook, released this week. Let me tell you why.

As the National Director of State Teams and Political Strategy, one of my roles is to help states learn from one another and replicate and expand upon success. By ranking private school choice programs based on quality measures, which we’re doing for the first time in this year’s Guidebook, we can work to improve all programs so that every child truly has the best opportunity to achieve his or her potential.

As you probably know, AFC believes children should have an array of school choice options: traditional district, public charter, and private. We also believe all schools should have high-quality accountability standards, a point that is sometimes overlooked in the false narrative of many who oppose giving families options. While we don’t take the position that all school models, regardless of uniqueness and innovative design, should be forced to have the same standards, AFC does believe that equitable standards are a must.

Consider my home state of North Carolina: of the 11 voucher programs ranked, North Carolina’s ranked in the top five. The North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program scores high in part because of its strong private school choice program accountability standards. This is an important point that I want to highlight.

In the Tar Heel state, which boasts of nearly 700 private schools, equitable standards include ensuring that a participating school administer a yearly national standardized achievement test; providing the state with documentation for tuition and fees charged; conducting criminal background checks on staff members with the highest decision-making authority; providing parents with an annual written explanation of their student’s progress; providing graduation rates of scholarship students to the state; and contracting with a certified public accountant to perform a financial review for schools receiving more than $300,000 in scholarship grants. Such solid accountability standards for schools participating in the North Carolina voucher program are essential to its success.

Looking to North Carolina and states like Wisconsin, which has the the number one ranked voucher program, we can help states like Louisiana and Maryland improve their programs. And we can work with other states to ensure newly created programs are also of a high quality. Because, at the end of the day, our mission is to make sure every family not only has options when it comes to the education of their children, but that those options are of the highest quality possible.