Competition raises the bar.
Total private school enrollment in South Carolina is just over 60,000 students, or one-tenth public enrollment.
Estimates of the on-time graduation rate for students at South Carolina private schools range between 85 and 95 percent; or double the shameful public school average of 49 percent.
This massive disparity cannot be explained by differences in student composition. South Carolina’s 370 private schools serve a huge range of student types, from low-income African American students in urban Catholic schools to rural white students attending small evangelical Christian schools. A wide range of secular and independent schools such as Montessori and single-gender schools exist too.
Private schools are efficient -and they graduate their students on time- because they have to be.
Without the massive and politically entrenched infrastructure of district and state support, independent schools have to rely on the initiative of principals and individual teachers to understand the needs of their students and respond to them. This lower-level autonomy allows private schools the freedom to develop instruction practices dynamically, rather than implement a one size fits all or top-down system designed for all public classrooms in the state.
Private schools also know that if parents are dissatisfied they will withdraw their children. The ever-present threat of competition –from other private schools as well as public ones- fosters a level of efficiency that a public school monopoly rarely attains.
And with school choice, this private school performance helps to spur improvements at public schools through the power of competition.
The public school gains are proportional to the proximity and degree of competition they face from private schools. This has been famously shown by Dr. Caroline Hoxby, director of the Economic Education Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Also by Greene and Forester and by Greene and Marcus.
Because tax credits and scholarships proposals barely approach the $11,480 per pupil public school spending in South Carolina, the common public schools will also gain access to greater funding under choice plans when students transfer out. Countless state and federal allocations, such as Title I, are issued to public schools based on census data for the area they serve, not the number of students publicly enrolled. State inputs also tend to be programmatic or categorical rather than student based.
Options for parents and competition among schools will improve instruction and leave more money for public schools. Only someone with a fanatical commitment to public schools, and no regard for individual student performance, would reject school choice outright.