Democratizing school choice

Editor’s note: This commentary from Mike McShane, director of national research at EdChoice, appeared Wednesday on

The great scholar of deregulation and later Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer told a (possibly apocryphal) story of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. During the 1970s, Kennedy held numerous hearings about deregulating the airline industry, a cause supported by everyone from Ralph Nader to Milton Friedman.

Kennedy, the story goes, was approached by one of his Boston constituents and asked, “Why are you holding hearings about airlines? I’ve never been able to fly.” To which Kennedy replied, “That’s why I’m holding the hearings.”

A decade ago, Derek Thompson, writing in the Atlantic, summed up the effects of airline deregulation. Airfares fell 50%. The per-mile cost of flying did too (even including fees). At the time, Kennedy’s constituent was complaining about what issues he was devoting his energy to, less than 20% of Americans had ever flown. By 2000, more than half of the country was taking at least one trip every year.

By breaking the vise-like grip that the federal government, through the Civil Aeronautics Board, had on controlling the prices and operations of airlines, air travel was democratized. Millions have benefited.

This year’s wave of school choice legislation has been about democratizing school choice. Historically, lots of people in America have had school choice if they have the money to purchase a house zoned to a good school, to pay for private school tuition, or to homeschool.

They also have been able to supplement their child’s traditional education with a host of other choices, from therapies to extracurriculars to tutors. Universal education savings accounts democratize both of those sets of opportunities, supporting families in their choices of schools and the surrounding services that they want for their child.

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BY Special to NextSteps