Tuition inflation lower in states with school choice, report finds

University professor addresses his students during a lecture.
University professor addresses his students during a lecture. | Getty Images

Contrary to critics' claims that school choice policies result in higher private school tuition rates, a recent report from a conservative think tank purports that states where school choice policies have been adopted experience the opposite outcome. 

The Heritage Foundation released a study late last month that analyzed tuition data in all 50 states from Private School Review, finding that, on average, inflation-adjusted tuition rates decreased in states that adopted school choice policies within the past 10 years. 

School choice refers to policies that allow families to use public education funds to pay for alternatives to public education, such as private schools, homeschooling or other services that best fit their needs. 

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States that never had a school choice policy had an average 27.6% increase in tuition, compared to an average 15.4% tuition increase in states that had adopted a school choice policy more than 10 years ago.

Jason Bedrick, a research fellow at The Heritage Foundation's Center for Education Policy and one of the study's authors, said there has been a tremendous groundswell of support for expanding education options. 

"Families should be able to choose learning environments that align with their values and work best for their children," Bedrick told The Christian Post Tuesday. "Our study's findings should allay concerns that school choice policies will drive tuition inflation, thereby keeping those options out of families' reach." 

"Indeed, as in other sectors, it appears that increased competition among education providers produces downward pressure on the price of tuition," he continued. 

One of the study's data tables broke down the changes in private high school tuition in states that always or never had school choice in the years 2013 through 2014 and 2022 through 2023.

For the states in the "Always Choice" category, tuition increased from $14,112 in the years 2013 to 2014 to $15,211 in the years 2022 to 2023, a change of 7.8%. Regarding private high school tuition for states in the "Never Choice" category, tuition increased from $12,058 in the years 2013 to 2014 to $16,233 in the years 2022 to 2023, a change of 34.6%. 

Researchers also analyzed changes in private elementary school tuition in a separate data table using the same timeline. Private elementary schools in the "Always Choice" category experienced a tuition change of 23.4%, whereas private elementary schools in the "Never Choice" category experienced a 31.5% tuition increase. 

The rate of change in tuition appeared to decrease on average after states adopted school choice. 

"As shown in Table 2, between 2013–2014 and 2022–2023, the average annual change in inflation-adjusted tuition in states before adopting school choice was 2.1 percent while the average annual change in tuition after adopting school choice was –1.5 percent," the report states. 

While the study noted that a more "sophisticated statistical analysis" of tuition data in all 50 states over 10 years found that school choice appeared to reduce elementary school tuition significantly, the data did not find a "discernable effect" on high school tuition. 

"As shown in Table 3, this model estimates that the average tuition for all private schools is $330 less than it would otherwise have been after states adopt a school choice policy, but this effect is not statistically significant," the report reads. 

However, private elementary schools in states that adopted school choice had tuition rates that were $925 lower than if the state had not adopted school choice, which the study highlighted is a "statistically significant difference." 

The study clarified that the $925 in savings is mostly due to reduced tuition increases instead of cuts in tuition rates, contending that schools in these states were able to delay or reduce tuition increases. 

"Contrary to the claims made by critics, states that have adopted school choice had lower rates of private elementary school tuition increases with no discernable effect on private high school tuition rates," the authors concluded. 

Critics of school choice, including Chicago Teachers Union President Stacy Davis Gates and Illinois Education Association official Sean Denney, have argued that these policies will deprive public schools of funding. 

The debate surrounding school choice comes as several states, including Arkansas, Arizona, Iowa and Utah, have enacted universal school choice programs. Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, after signing Senate Bill 294 in March, which includes a plan for the state to adopt a universal school choice program, declared the bill a "historic win" for parents, teachers and students. 

In 2022, Arizona passed what is considered to be one of the most robust school choice policies in the U.S., ensuring that all K-12 students are eligible for scholarship funds and receive help toward educational expenses through the state. Arizona families can receive over $6,500 per year per child for private school, homeschooling, micro schools, tutoring or other educational services.

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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