WILL Blog | Esenberg, Szafir, Hudson: School Choice Across the Globe

School Choice Across the Globe

Despite the heated rhetoric, critics of school choice may be surprised to learn that voucher programs are quite common in the economically developed world.  Twenty five of the richest countries in the world have vouchers or tuition tax credits for students to attend private schools of their choosing.  Most significantly, many of these counties have more robust school choice programs than Wisconsin.

WILL’s latest policy brief explores the school choice programs in the Netherlands, Sweden, and Chile.  Our survey shows that free market concepts, such as universal voucher eligibility regardless of income and equal funding for all schools, do actually exist in the world.  What appears politically impossible in the Badger State has been longstanding public policy elsewhere.

Consider the following summary from the report:

  • Sweden boasts universal school choice and equal funding for all schools. In Wisconsin, harsh, unfair funding inequalities exist between traditional public schools, independent public charter schools, and vouchers for private schools (with the latter two receiving around 50% less than public schools).  In Sweden, though, equal public funds perfectly follows students to the school of their choice, whether it is public or private.  This public funding is made available to all children, regardless of socio-economic status or geographic location.

The proliferation of private schools in Sweden have increased competition with public schools, and, as research has shown, actually increased test scores of public schools.

  • The Netherlands has one of the oldest – and largest – school choice programs in the world. 70 percent of all schools are private, 90% of which are religious.  This is so sacrosanct that the Netherlands’ Constitution guarantees equal funding for all schools, including religious ones.

The Netherlands also has a weighted voucher funding formula, allocating more funds to children from low-income families, with learning disabilities, and with parents’ who have a lower levels of education.

Like religious schools in Milwaukee, religious private schools in the Netherlands excel in standardized testing when compared to public schools.

  • Chile’s voucher program was originally designed by Milton Friedman. The weighted voucher program, which adds more resources to the vouchers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, serves over 50 percent of the country’s students. Unlike in Wisconsin, private schools are allowed to charge additional fees in conjunction to receiving government voucher funds.  Most controversially, schools in Chile are able to choose which students to accept and educate at their institution.

Taken together, this report shows that school choice policies are commonplace in many parts of the developed world.  This paper does not assert that any one of these policies should be transposed to the choice landscape in Wisconsin.  Such conclusions are notoriously difficult to make. However, learning about the experiences of other countries may inform discussion and debate on the best way to improve educational opportunity in Wisconsin.

If some countries – with the support of politicians that would make Rep. Peter Barca appear politically conservative – can implement universal school choice and fund all schools equally, then perhaps there is hope for Wisconsin after all.

CJ Szafir is Associate Counsel and Director of Education, and Alexandra Hudson is Lead Education Policy Analyst at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

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