The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice recently published an analysis entitled, “More Than Scores: An Analysis of Why and How Parents Choose Private Schools.” The study took a look at the Georgia GOAL scholarship system, in which parents would get money from the state (i.e., a school voucher) in order to send their children to private schools.
The GOAL’s oversight entity, the Georgia Education Expense Credit Program, is structured in a way to give tax credits for contributing to a “qualified Student Scholarship Organization (SSO).” An individual can receive a tax credit for contributing up to $1,000, a married couple up to $2,500 plus several other stipulations for corporations. The amount of available tax credits were increased to $58 million in 2013. These SSO scholarships are awarded to schools, but not to specified students (meaning donors cannot donate a scholarship to a specific or designated student).
GOAL was started in 2008 and has given 8,681 scholarships to 5,220 students. It awarded 3,366 scholarships last year. The total scholarship amount given to students was over $33 million. The average income of GOAL scholarship recipients was $51,923 and the average amount of scholarship money per recipient was $3,815. Of the scholarship recipients, 60% were white, 25% black, and 5% Hispanic or Latino. A total of 122 schools participate in the GOAL program, which is governed by an eleven-person board.
The study found that the top five reasons for sending children to private schools were “better student discipline” (50.9% of parents), “better learning environment” (50.8%), “smaller class sizes” (48.9%), “improved student safety” (46.8%) and “more individual attention for my child” (39.3%). Believe it or not, only 10.2% of parents said they considered higher standardized test scores as a top reason to send their child to private school.
Other reasons that added to private school attendance, according to parents, were the college acceptance rate (61.3% of parents), the student-teacher ratio (84.2%), school accreditation (70.2%), and religious instruction availability (56%). Only 21.5% of parents said that racial, socioeconomic and ethnic demographic of the private school student population played a role in their decision. Also, the study found that 98.6% of parents surveyed were either “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with their private school choice.
Typical of school choice advocates is Wisconsin’s Racine Unified School District Superintendent Ann Laing who said:
“African-American families are the ones who (were) most prone to enroll their kids in the fly-by-night schools that cropped up after vouchers existed… [African-American families] don’t know how to make good choices for their children. They really don’t. They didn’t have parents who made good choices for them or helped them learn how to make good choices, so they don’t know how to do that.”
The authors went on to say, “many public officials either deny parents the opportunity to take advantage of alternative educational options or impose on private schools the same standardized curriculum, testing, and assessment methods used in public schools.”
Some of the surveyed parents wrote comments about why they liked private schools more than public schools:
- “My daughter is getting a quality education. She is raising her standards to those of other college preparatory students. She is in an environment conducive to higher learning with the support system in place to help her.”
- “(In public school) [m]y daughter was bullied, verbally abused, and poorly treated by students, and teachers did not defend or protect her. She was a top student in her class, but the teachers could not keep her occupied with work and ignored her desire to excel.”
- “My child was robbed of his opportunity to learn on a daily basis by children who were out of control and disruptive. Learning is challenging for him and he needs structure and a controlled environment. It is unfortunate that we had to sacrifice financially to remove him from public school mainly because of this reason.”
- “[The private school] provides community…like one big family (meaning love and support for my child), she is learning biblical principles for living before God and living in character with others. It provides fun, active, effective learning experiences through a wide variety of modalities. It provides knowledgeable, competent, compassionate teachers to invest in her.”
- “Our current (private) school provides an environment that is more conducive to learning and also provides a curriculum that will make it highly possible for college attendance.”
Here are some of the facts about the surveyed parents that the authors found:
- “For high-income families, 67.4 percent said a “better learning environment” or a “better education” were the top two reasons why they chose a private school for their child. The corresponding percentage for low-income families was 69.5 percent.
- Lower-income parents were more likely to say that a “religious education” was one of the top two reasons why they chose a private school for their children—41.9 percent versus 37.8 percent for higher-income parents.
- Parents without a college degree were more likely to list a “better education” as one of their top two reasons for choosing a private school—48.7 percent for parents with less than a college degree versus 42.6 percent for parents with a college degree.
- Perhaps reflecting the fact that many unmarried parents live in school attendance zones with low- quality public schools, 36.5 percent of unmarried parents listed a “better education” as their most important reason for choosing a private school for their child, compared with 25.2 percent for married parents. Parents identified as neither white nor Asian, many of whom do not have access to good public schools, placed more emphasis on the importance of securing a “better education” for their child than did white and Asian parents, with 40.5 percent of the former listing it as their top reason for choosing a private school versus 23.7 percent in the case of white and Asian parents.
- White and Asian parents were more likely to say that “religious education” was their most important reason for choosing a private school (32.6 percent) versus 26.9 percent for others.”
The authors discovered that lower-income parents were more likely to place high school graduation rates and post-secondary information as their top two pieces of information. 19.2% of those surveyed put these as the top options, while only 12.1% of higher-income parents did. The parents’ education level is also similar, since 40.7% of parents without a college degree put these as their top two choices, while 31.5% of college-educated parents do. Marital status also mimics this trend, with 44% of unmarried parents putting these as their top options while 30.9% of married parents do so.