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Many in the conservative movement advocate for “school choice”: aka educational reform in the way of school vouchers, but there are waves and waves of research that suggest private school vouchers harm students who receive them.

But first: What are school vouchers? The concept originated with Milton Friedman, and is essentially a strategy to privatize schools by subsidizing tuition for private school students (although conservatives will claim it’s about expanding opportunities for low-income students).

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) described vouchers:

“An educational voucher is a certificate of public funding of a certain amount that can be used by parents of students in any school of the parents’ choosing that accepts such vouchers, usually private.”

The National Education Association estimates that voucher advocates spend about $65 million each year to promote this strategy.

Recently, a plethora of research has come out from comparing voucher students with similar children who took the same standardized tests in public school to see the effect of vouchers. Results from Indiana, Louisiana, and Ohio found that voucher students who transferred to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement, both in math and reading.

Private school vouchers also lack accountability, as most private schools do not have to meet standards for curriculum, testing, teacher qualifications, or school quality, and take money away from neighborhood public schools.

EPI asks a telling question in its recent report on vouchers:

“Why does school privatization at public expense continue to be pushed at the state and federal level when the empirical evidence points so flaringly in one direction – that neither the move from public to private school nor increased competition from private schools significantly improves student achievement?”

The answer, they say, is simple: There is a distinct ideological difference between conservatives, who value individual choice and educational markets – even without results to prove they work – and those who believe in equity and public accountability, supporting public education.

Minnesota should focus on what really matters: equitable achievement for every child, not throwing children into a lottery for a program with no conclusive evidence that it improves student achievement.