Free Market Friday: Desegregation through choice

February 27, 2016

Jonathan Small

Efforts to help the most vulnerable through school choice have received quite the boost.

In January, Martin Luther King III marched for school choice. In February, Grammy Award-winning musician Christopher Brian “Chris” Bridges, aka Ludacris, endorsed education savings accounts. ESAs allow parents to direct a portion of their child’s per-pupil funding and use the money to pay for public or private school tuition, tutoring, online learning and college savings.
Gov. Mary Fallin has called for the creation of ESAs.

Last week, ESA legislation passed out of the House Common Education Committee. It is now headed to the House floor.

The next day, the Oklahoma Supreme Court unanimously upheld a school voucher program, the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program for Children with Disabilities.

Unsurprisingly, some are peddling the myth that school choice will exacerbate racial segregation.

Fortunately, the opposite is true.

“Of the eight studies that have examined racial segregation in private choice programs, seven found that choice moved students from more segregated classrooms and schools into less segregated classrooms and schools; one found no visible difference,” writes education researcher Greg Forster, author of a 2013 meta-analysis of the private school choice literature. “No empirical study has ever found that private school choice increased racial segregation.”

Results of an October 2015 study pointed in the same direction. In “The Integration Anomaly: Comparing the Effects of K-12 Education Delivery Models on Segregation in Schools,” economist Benjamin Scafidi found that public schools are becoming more segregated but that school choice increases integration.

“The government school system is very heavily segregated by race because it’s tied to residence,” Forster wrote recently. He also noted, “School choice breaks down racial barriers by making it possible for students to go to school outside their neighborhoods. The typical private choice school is an inner-city Catholic school – more diverse, not less, than the nearby public schools. If we care about segregation, the worst thing we can do is indulge these paranoid fantasies about private schooling.”

Having worked in Oklahoma City public schools, I’ve personally witnessed noticeable segregation. In the suburban school district where I live now, my four daughters would be among the few of African-American descent at their local public school.

To empower the most vulnerable and increase racial integration, expansion of school choice is a must.