In the politically charged world of education policy, school choice programs often are labelled “new,” “experimental,” “controversial,” or “untested.”

Yet, at the same time, most American parents take school choice for granted. As Richard Elmore and Bruce Fuller explain:

“Choice is everywhere in American education. It is manifest in the residential choices made by families [and] in the housing prices found in neighborhoods [and] when families, sometimes at great financial sacrifice, decide to send their children to private schools…. [I]n all instances, these choices…are strongly shaped by the wealth, ethnicity, and social status of parents and their neighborhoods.”

Who Chooses? Who Loses? Culture, Institutions, and the Unequal Effects of School Choice, Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 1996.

Similarly, Jeffrey Henig and Stephen Sugarman describe the “very considerable degree to which families already select the schools their children attend…. [B]y one plausible way of counting, more than half of American families now exercise school choice [and] some families have more choice than others.”

“The Nature and Extent of School Choice,” in School Choice and Social Controversy, Politics, Policy and Law, Sugarman and Kemerer, eds., The Brookings Institution Press, 1999.

In other words, parental school choice in America is widespread — unless you’re poor.

This website focuses on recently enacted tax-supported programs that provide educational vouchers for parents of students in low-income families (Milwaukee and Cleveland); students in failing public schools (Florida); and students with disabilities (Florida). See the Summary of Key Provisions for an overview (Click here to get Adobe Acrobat Reader). The chart below illustrates their growth.

This site also describes longstanding educational voucher programs in Maine and Vermont. Finally, it briefly summarizes educational tax credit and tax deduction programs in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.

The phrase “school choice” is also often used with respect to a broader range of efforts. For example, there are dozens of privately financed voucher programs; thousands of tax-supported charter schools; many states that provide educational tax credits and deductions; more than a million parents who educate their children at home; and dozens of school districts that have entered into public-private partnerships to manage schools. The federal “No Child Left Behind” Act provides parents of students in failing schools with options to attend the school of their choice; however, these options are limited to public schools. Private schools are not included in the program.