Are vouchers the solution to America’s school choice debate?

A school bus sits parked along a street in the Queens borough of New York January 16, 2013. For the first time in 34 years, New York City bus drivers went on strike, stranding up to 152,000 students in the nation's largest public school system on sleet-soaked Wednesday morning. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES - Tags: EDUCATION CIVIL UNREST BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT) - RTR3CJ15

The election of Donald Trump as president and subsequent confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education have thrust private school choice plans into the spotlight of K-12 education policy. Details of the federal government’s plans for private school choice remain unclear, although the Trump administration’s hopes are becoming clearer: For example, Trump’s budget outline calls for $250 million to fund a private school choice program, and there is continued speculation about a federal tax-credit scholarship program.

In a new piece, “Why managed competition is better than a free market for schooling,” Brookings Nonresident Senior Fellow Douglas N. Harris considers the merits of a “free market for schooling” with large-scale voucher programs. After reviewing the related conceptual and empirical arguments, Harris argues against large-scale voucher or tax-credit scholarship programs with minimal government oversight. In its place, he proposes an alternative approach to school choice policy—one he calls “managed competition.”

Harris’s managed competition approach emphasizes parental choice coupled with an active government role in assuring quality. Defining the concept of managed competition in this report, he anchors the definition in what he calls the five key elements of managed competition: accountability, accessibility, transparency, coordination, and enforcement. Harris contends that a system of managed competition, with varying designs in different types of locations, can provide the structure necessary to make the very unusual schooling market work for all children.

The full piece is available online and via PDF download here.