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School Choice Supply and Demand: Improving Both Sides of the Equation

Promoting school choice is a means to an end. Namely? Opportunity for all kids to learn and meet their potential in an educational environment that best suits them, accelerating them toward their maximum academic and social potential.

I talk here a lot about school choice, and the power of my parents being able to select the best learning option for me. Some families don’t have access to any good schools or viable learning opportunities; other families do have access. Not only should we be steadily closing the gap between those two groups, but we also should be raising the bar for all students!

The sad truth is we’ve got a long way to go to get there. And even when we get “there,” room for ongoing improvement will still exist. Making it happen requires solving two sides of an equation: Increasing the supply of appropriate, quality schools and learning options; AND addressing the demand of students and parents for these educational opportunities.

So how fitting was it that yesterday a pair of helpful reports came out, one each addressing a different side of the school choice equation! Kudos to the Friedman Foundation folks for seeking to open the doors of communication and collaboration between successful public charter school leaders and the private education sector. The result is a concise presentation from the reliable and insightful Andy Smarick, “The Chartered Course: Can Private School Choice Proponents Learn from the Charter School Sector?”

Read and glean some ideas as Smarick dissects and explains the factors driving charter success — including the existence of Charter Management Organizations (CMOs) and what they focus on, the vital third-party role of charter incubators, and the need for a state to create an Independent Charter Board quality authorizer, like Colorado’s own Charter School Institute.

Is a similar course the only path for private schools to expand and replicate the supply of quality options? No. Could it be a good path? Perhaps.

On the other side of the equation, Chalkbeat Colorado features a new Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) report that explores some crucial questions about overcoming barriers and meeting school choice demand, particularly for lower-income families.

According to the article, CRPE surveyed 4,000 families in eight cities, Denver included. As has been discussed here before, just having educational options available isn’t a guarantee you are going to reach all the kids who need them. Commonly identified barriers include include inadequate transportation and lack of information about educational options.

How can that be fixed, or at least substantially mitigated? For the first, maybe some form of transportation voucher could work. The second will be an ongoing challenge, and information is never perfect. But there are ways to address the problem, including my Education Policy Center friends’ fabulous School Choice for Kids website — which I’ve touted here once or twice.

These two reports offer great insights that shouldn’t be ignored. But let’s also not be shy about offering more choice, too! We can start by building on Colorado’s public school choice foundation and increase access to quality options soon — like, say, through scholarship tax credits. Let’s help Colorado Kids Win!