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Myths vs. Facts: Education Freedom

By: Andrew Handel

The freight train that is education freedom continues to run down the tracks across the country in 2024. Here are a few of the highlights:

  • Governor Ivey signed the CHOOSE Act into law, making Alabama the 11st state with universal education freedom.

  • Georgia passed its first education freedom account (EFA) program. The bill is now awaiting Governor Kemp’s signature, who has indicated he will sign it.

  • Governor Gordon signed Wyoming’s first school choice program into law, though he line-item vetoed the program to make it for families making less than 150% of the federal poverty level. The legislature’s originally passed version included families making below 500% of the federal poverty level.

  • Legislation to create a universal EFA program is progressing through the Tennessee committee process and is backed by Governor Lee.

  • Legislation to create a universal EFA program has passed the Louisiana Senate Education Committee.

The progress continues to be amazing, but there are some myths about education freedom that continue to be perpetuated. It is important to dispel some of the more common myths that lawmakers are likely to hear when debate is inevitably held on expanding education freedom for students in their state.

In addition, lawmakers looking to keep pace with states like Alabama can consult ALEC’s model policy, The Hope Scholarship Act, which offers a model for creating a universally-available EFA program, as well as ALEC’s latest 50-state rankings in our Index of State Education Freedom. There are also a variety of good resources available from the Education Freedom Alliance, which is being led by ALEC and includes a variety of other national groups focused on bringing education freedom to all students across the country.

Myth: Education freedom will bankrupt public schools.


Fact: The myth that education freedom will “destroy” the public school system is probably the most common, and most deceptive, argument that opponents resort to. First and foremost, education freedom means allowing all families to choose what school is best for their students – whether that be a charter school, virtual school, micro school, home school, or a traditional public school inside or outside of their district. The key is that families are free to choose their local public school. They are not forced into it because of their zip code or household income.

State-level policies in support of education freedom ensure that state education dollars are tied to students, not systems. Thus, when a student leaves the traditional public school for another school that better fits them, the state education dollars travel with that student in the form of a scholarship, tax credit, or education freedom account (more on that below). While the traditional public school does lose its state education funding for that student, it still retains its local and federal portions of funding. Opponents of education freedom want you to forget this part and will only tell you that total spending in public schools goes down. Although this is true, per-student funding actually increases.

For example, let’s say a hypothetical school district spends $15,000 per student each year and has 100 students, for a total annual spend of $1,500,000. Of the per-student funding, $7,000 comes from state dollars, $7,000 comes from local dollars, and $1,000 comes from federal dollars. If 10 students choose to leave for a non-public learning environment, then $70,000 will leave the public school and travel with those 10 students. This means that total annual spending for the public school goes down from $1,500,000 to $1,430,000. However, there are now only 90 students that the public school is responsible for educating. This means that per-student spending has risen to $15,889!

Myth: Education freedom only helps the wealthiest families and those already in private schools.

 Fact: Education freedom is for all students regardless of income, geography, race, gender, ethnicity, or any other characteristic. Simply put, no student should be forced to attend a school that isn’t the best fit for them, and parents shouldn’t be forced to pay twice to make this a reality (once via taxation for their public school, and again from their own funds for a non-public school).

In addition, programs that operate on a more limited basis, such as those for students with special needs or low-income households, tend to have more bureaucratic hurdles as the verification process adds another layer that can delay application processing. Programs that are open to all students, on the other hand, can operate more efficiently and approve applications more quickly. This means that all families, especially those in low-income households, can get their scholarship funds quicker.

Myth: Education freedom hurts rural areas.

Fact: Another significant myth is that giving families a choice in education somehow hurts rural areas that don’t have other choices available. While this is unfortunately the case in many rural districts, it’s critical to remember that education freedom creates the environment necessary for those other options to open up. In a traditional system of education funding, where the public school is a monopoly with guaranteed dollars regardless of performance, it’s difficult for other schools to operate efficiently when the population is small. But when states create a competitive environment where dollars follow students, non-public options can operate effectively, public schools are encouraged to improve their own performance, and students and families come out on top.

Myth: There is rampant fraud in most education freedom programs.

 Fact: Fraud is, unfortunately, to be expected in any government program. Most people are familiar with the rampant issues in Medicaid programs, which had a 15.62% improper payment rate in 2022 for total fraudulent payments of $80.57 billion, and Social Security, which some estimate could be losing 20%, or $25 billion each year, to criminals. While education freedom programs are not completely immune to bad actors, they do boast impressive anti-fraud statistics. Arizona, for example, estimates that just 1% of its payments, for a total of $700,000, are spent in fraudulent ways.

While opponents of education freedom will often try to seize on singular, isolated incidents of fraud as proof that a program should be shut down, it’s crucial to remember that 1) fraud as a portion of actual payments is very low in education freedom programs and 2) we shouldn’t be letting the actions of a few bad actors stop millions of students from reaping the benefits of the education freedom programs.


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