Commentary: Vicki Murray, February 15, 2008

That steep mortgage may not buy your kids a decent education.

A growing number of middle-income families are in homes they can barely afford to keep and cannot afford to sell at a loss–all so that their children can go to “good” suburban public schools. But just how good are those schools?

At more than one in 10 suburban California public schools, in neighborhoods where median home prices approach or exceed $1 million, a majority of students in at least one grade are not proficient in English or math. Six out of 10 public school students nationwide who are not poor also score below proficiency in math and reading on the Nation’s Report Card.

Parents shouldn’t have to go broke paying mortgages for “free” public schools that don’t deliver. Instead of a monopoly system of assigned public schooling, parents should control their children’s education dollars.

Consider higher education. Students are not assigned to colleges and universities based on where they live. Students also use public funds to pay for the public or private education of their choice. Such competition for students and their education dollars has made American higher education the envy of the world. A competitive marketplace should exist for K-12 education, too.

Allowing parents to send their children to any district or independent public charter school is a start. Thirteen states, including Washington, D.C., also have private school voucher and tuition tax-credit scholarship programs. Three states allow tax credits and deductions for educational expenses, including private school tuition. The introduction of Educational Savings Accounts, allowing families to save money tax-free for school, would be another promising reform.

Programs like these would expand educational opportunities without putting parents in the poor house.

Vicki E. Murray, Ph.D., is an education studies senior policy fellow at the Pacific Research Institute in Sacramento, and co-author of Not as Good as You Think: Why the Middle Class Needs School Choice.

–Interviewed by Elisabeth Eaves

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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