CAPSO Position Paper on Principles
Governing Parental Choice of Schools Legislation
In 1925, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Pierce v. Society of Sisters held that a state may not “standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public [school] teachers only.” It is “those who nurture him and direct his destiny,” the Court found, that “have the right, coupled with the high duty” to supervise a child’s education. At the same time, the Court affirmed “the power of the State reasonably to regulate all schools.” We believe legislation relating to school choice should respect and reflect each of these three principles.
In holding that a state may not standardize its children, the U.S. Supreme Court provided both an explicit endorsement of educational pluralism, and implicit recognition that the “best” education for any particular child is that which, beyond being designed to “prepare him for additional obligations,” is provided in a manner that is most appropriate to a child’s individual needs.
Whereas a public school education may certainly be regarded as most appropriate to a particular child’s needs, a parent cannot meaningfully arrive at such a conclusion in the absence of access to alternatives. Some children hail from families that possess the economic means to access educational options beyond those provided by the state, while others are, essentially, “forced” to accept instruction from public teachers only.
The purpose of school choice legislation is, therefore, to broaden access to educational options, particularly for those circumstances that constrain or preclude such opportunity. School choice legislation should always view the child as its beneficiary, rather than a school, or category of schools. Such legislation should not be designed with an intent to increase or decrease funding for one category of schools at the expense of another, and school choice funding should always flow through parents, rather than be allocated directly to schools.
Parents bear the legal responsibility and moral obligation to determine which educational options are best suited to meet the particular needs of their children. Accordingly, school choice legislation should enable parents to select from a variety of possible educational options that may include, but need not be limited to traditional public schools, public “magnet” schools, public charter schools, private independent and religious schools, home schools, online schools and/or other evolving arrangements. Benefits provided by legislation should reflect consideration of varying types and degrees of need.
Tax relief, and/or incentives provide a preferred means of distributing school choice benefits. In such arrangements, all funding remains private. The U.S. Supreme Court has established that a tax credit does not involve any expenditure of government funds (Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, 2011), and has held that “by educating a substantial number of students [private] schools relieve public schools of a correspondingly great burden—to the benefit of all taxpayers” (Mueller v. Allen, 1983).
The Pierce v. Society of Sisters ruling allows for reasonable regulation by the state. We endorse state regulation of schools that promotes and protects the health, safety, and well-being of pupils, provides that “certain studies plainly essential to good citizenship must be taught,” and assures that “nothing be taught which is manifestly inimical to the public welfare.” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters)
At the same time, reasonable regulation must be respectful of the legal rights and moral obligations of parents to direct the upbringing of their children, and must refrain from imposing requirements upon private schools that would serve to compromise their identities and purposes. To this end, school choice legislation should safeguard the right of private schools to establish curricula (beyond satisfaction of a state’s basic requirements), oversee instruction, evaluate student achievement through means that are not restricted to test scores, control the hiring of staff, and set admissions policies.
For their part, private schools that participate in programs established by school choice legislation should comply with all applicable federal, state, and local regulations, including those relating to civil rights, nondiscrimination, background checks for employees, and student health and safety. School choice legislation should not, however, prompt unreasonable regulation of private schools by the state.
The California Association of Private School Organizations favors school choice legislation that:
- increases access to a variety of educational options;
- focuses upon benefits to children rather than schools;
- considers varying needs of students and families; and,
- maintains appropriate balance between state regulation, parental rights, and private school autonomy.