Brookings Institution finds that 82% of American families live within five miles of a private school

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Arizona lawmakers passed a broad expansion of the state’s ESA program last week, meaning that we got treated to every anti-choice talking point you can imagine during the debate, some far more dubious than others. One opponent for instance asserted that the ESA program was reminiscent of a very unfortunate history decades ago when officials kidnapped Native American children from reservation lands and forced them to attend schools in Phoenix, breaking their families up.  As you might imagine, this level of overconfident paternalism bears a scar to this day. Parental choice would of course bring this history to mind if not for the fact that it is in fact the polar freaking opposite of having some idiotic government official decide where your child was going to go to school whether you like it or not.

But I digress…

Transportation lies more in the realm of worthwhile discussion- parents can only choose between schools within transport range. Private schools engage in a variety of formal and informal transportation efforts- including carpools and buses, but the lack of tightly packed attendance boundaries presents challenges as choice schools tend to draw from large areas for students. Brookings has produced a very helpful study finding that 82% of American families live within five miles of one or more private schools.

So let’s take a real world example. A few years ago I blogged on the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education program having partnered with a group of South Tucson Catholic schools. South Tucson has many low-income students and a sadly large number of low-rated public schools, but it also has a number of private schools within walking distance. Transportation is not the main issue in South Tucson- the ability of families to cover the modest tuition costs remain the main obstacle.

The complexity of the ESA program eligibility requirements were another obstacle, although one that has been overcome. This is a Powerpoint slide that ACE used to explain how they went about attempting to qualify children for Arizona choice programs under the formerly Byzantine rules of AZESA:

Having said all of this, not every child will have the same proximity to private schools as the kids in South Tucson. We can hope that additional private schools will open to meet demand, and the ESA does provide options outside of attending private schools. I am also hopeful that the Nevada ESA program will be funded this year, and we can see how including transportation as an allowable account expense works out in practice.



7 Responses to Brookings Institution finds that 82% of American families live within five miles of a private school

  1. Greg Forster says:

    You monster! These people have been harmed by our society’s past injustices. You can’t give them their own choices in their lives. They need to be kept in a permanent state of dependence upon, and total control by, the same government that harmed them. What’s wrong with you?

    I mean, it’s not like they’re white or anything. Because that would be totally different.

  2. ESA is the almost perfect decoy to extend CC’s inferior standards and tests to private school students. The more AZ kids use ESA money to attend a private school, the more the state can insist that “accountability” requires use of AZ”s recently adopted inferior CC standards/tests. I officially reviewed its ELA standards.

    • matthewladner says:


      I’m afraid you are jumping the shark here. There is no standards or curricular mandate in this bill, only a provision for private schools taking 50 or more ESA students to give a NRT like ITBS or Stanford 10. If there had been such a provision, the bill would have never made it out of committee. The school choice coalition in this state remains adamantly opposed to a state test mandate of any kind.

      Moreover, the state has already dropped PARCC, revised the standards once with it only being a matter of time until they do it again, and passed legislation allowing public schools to choose different tests. That’s in the public school system.

      If you feel inclined to concerned about the endurance of CC in states, Arizona should sit towards the bottom of your list of worries.

      • AZ’s revised ELA standards are Common Core-lite. State tests by law must be based on a state’s official standards.

      • matthewladner says:

        Arizona ranks about third in the nation in NAEP reading cohort gains on reading between 2011 4th grade and 8th grade scores for the same cohort of students in 2015. If Arizona’s standards are doing harm, it is hard to find any evidence of it in NAEP. They have already changed the standards once and they will do so again in a few years. If you have a case to make that this subject is something other than irrelevant, feel free to make it, but it is sounding like the Japanese soldier they found still fighting WWII in an island jungle in the early 1970s to me.

    • Greg Forster says:

      We’ve been hearing this “school choice will lead to government control of private schools!!!!!!!!” line since 1990. Hasn’t been happening. Choice programs are actually growing less and less restrictive over time. What else have you got?

  3. What has the AZ DoE committed the state to, in its State Plan for ESSA?

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