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The parental-choice movement has secured a number of important victories in recent years. There are now 65 private-school-choice programs in the U.S., serving approximately 700,000 students, including new universal education savings account programs in Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Utah, and West Virginia. Despite this progress, however, existing private-school-choice programs have, in some ways, fallen short of their transformational potential. The number of students served remains stagnant and below capacity in many states, faith-based (and especially Catholic) schools continue to close despite new eligibility for public funds, most funds are used to fill seats in existing schools and rather than driving the creation of new schools, and test-score improvements have been underwhelming.

In order to realize all the benefits of parental-choice programs, advocates, policymakers, and participating schools have to pay more attention to implementation challenges, both when designing parental-choice policies and after new programs are enacted. This report discusses both categories of implementation challenges. The first category—challenges that result from policy design—includes features of many programs that make them difficult to implement, such as limits on the tax benefits available in scholarship tax-credit programs, low scholarship amounts, and eligibility restrictions. The second category—challenges that occur after programs are enacted—result from advocates’ and participating schools’ failure to take steps that would increase the likelihood of programmatic success, such as prioritizing academic improvement among program participants, better informing parents about the choices available to them, and encouraging the development of more and better schools and school networks.

Publication Date



Manhattan Institute


New York


Education, School Choice, Pre K-12, Private School, Policy


Education | Elementary Education | Law | Secondary Education


Nicole Stelle Garnett is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Unlocking the Potential of Private-School Choice: Avoiding and Overcoming Obstacles to Successful Implementation