Public school deregulation: How would it affect voucher support?

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Florida’s school choice critics have long complained about Florida’s testing regime. They’ve even bundled this frustration with state testing, and other regulatory burdens, into their opposition to school choice programs like the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship or the new Family Empowerment Scholarship

But what if public schools were subjected to the same light-touch regulations on testing that private schools accepting scholarships enjoy? Would critics be more likely to support school choice? Would public school leaders in Florida support school choice if they could substitute the Florida Standards Assessments for national norm-referenced tests?

A new paper, “Deal or No Deal? The Effects of Deregulation on Public School Leaders’ Support for Private Choice in California,” by Corey DeAngelis and Lindsey Burke, suggests the answer might still be “no.”

Researchers grouped California public school leaders into one of five groups to test the impact that various deregulations might have on supporting a hypothetical private school voucher. One group served as the control where no deregulation was offered along with the hypothetical voucher program.

Hypothetical deregulation included eliminating state tests, not requiring schools to report test results, not requiring teachers be certified, and not requiring schools to provide transportation.

Of the over 7,000 school leaders sent questions, just 755 responded. The low-response rate may bias the results. Researchers also noted their respondents were underrepresented in large counties and cities, as well as elementary schools.

Researchers found strong opposition to a hypothetical private voucher program regardless of deregulation offered. Overall, 80 percent of public school leaders were “certain not to support” or “very little chance” they would support a voucher program.

Interestingly, researchers found that deregulating teacher certification and testing requirements for public schools actually increased opposition to the hypothetical voucher program.

The researchers speculate this increased opposition may be because regulations tend to benefit large firms (like public school districts) and reduce the effectiveness of small competitors (like private schools).

Future research may want to explore additional hypotheticals, such as allowing school-level autonomy, or even bundling several deregulations together such as autonomy and testing deregulation. Would the answers change, or opposition remain?

Researchers might also want to consider surveying public school leaders in states like Florida where more than 140,000 students are already using voucher-like programs.

Or perhaps ask the reverse? Would public school leaders support vouchers if private schools faced the exact same regulations? Given the opposition in Louisiana and Washington D.C. that answer might also be a “no.”

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