According to a new Notre Dame Law School study, accountability for publicly-funded school choice programs should be driven by parent empowerment and not regulatory overreach.
“Accountability in Private-School Choice,” published by the Manhattan Institute from Nicole Stelle Garnett, the John P. Murphy Foundation Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, underscores the fine line between ensuring academic accountability and curtailing private schools’ autonomy and recommends two guiding principles for accountability regulations.
“Regulators must give parents the information they need to make informed choices and hold schools accountable through enrollment decisions. Garnett’s report states that. And, “Accountability regulations ought to advance the goal of providing parents with access to more and better schools.”
Most people would agree that, when the government acquires a good or service with public funds, it is entitled to ensure that it gets what it’s paying for. Garnett says that private school choice is similar to public funding.
“It is reasonable to ask private schools that participate in private school choice programs about their academic performance,” she stated. However, it is unreasonable to place them under government control or micromanagement. Parental choice exists to promote educational pluralism, give parents options and allow parents to hold schools accountable. Overregulation defeats that purpose.”
While 21 states voted this year to create, expand or improve school choice programs, three new programs were added in states that previously did not have any — Kentucky, Missouri and West Virginia.
Garnett believes accountability regulations should be designed to provide parents with the information they need about school quality, but many do the opposite.
She wrote that “many accountability debates don’t really concern holding schools accountable. Rather, they represent opponents thinly disguised obstructionist attempts to kill choices proposals before they’re enacted and subject private schools to government oversight when they fail.
” “For a variety legitimate reasons,” Garnett states, “state and Federal regulations don’t require private schools to take the same tests as public schools or participate in state accountability programs. While it is sensible to allow private schools to choose a standardized test, many do not wish to make public the results. Parents are unable to make informed decisions because of this. Information about school quality should be transparent, easy to interpret and reflective of the criteria that matter to parents.”
According to Garnett, regulatory burdens are a major reason private schools opt out of choice programs, reducing available options to parents and resulting in an educational system that is less equitable and inclusive.
“Parents who have the means to choose their child’s school, whether they move to districts with excellent public schools or pay tuition at private schools, have had this option for a long time. “Justice demands that disadvantaged parents be given these options as well.”
Today, 31 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have at least one private school choice program. When choice increases, accountability becomes a problem.
Garnett’s report focuses on academic accountability. However, she also warns against regulations that threaten religious liberty.
She wrote, “Regulations that impair the autonomy of private schools, especially those that threaten religious liberty at faith-based schools, are most likely to discourage them from participating in choice programmes, which will undermine the growing access to better schools .”
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