I really don’t think the government can step up the quality of education in many public schools. When I was attending a Catholic high school, we had to go spend time in the inner city elementary schools to help the kids and teachers. What I saw wasn’t bad teachers. In some cases, it wasn’t bad school buildings. It was that the kids had no family structure. They could have the greatest building with the greatest teachers and the greatest books, but it really doesn’t matter if there is no structure at home. I don’t know how the government can force people to qualitatively be “good parents.”
When you live with one parent who either works 2 minimum wage jobs or is gone all the time for less noble reasons(drugs, alcohol, prostitution, etc), in a zipcode with a per capita income under $10K, and all of your friends have similar circumstances, kids can’t dream. Nobody will force them to learn or achieve.
If all of the Catholic School kids had gone to public schools, it would make little difference for the public schools that are failing. Most of us lived in the suburbs (or our parents would have moved to the suburbs if that was necessary for good schools). The concept of school integration remains largely a farce. While schools now aren’t segregated by race, they are definitely segregated by socioeconomics. By their nature, neighborhoods don’t integrate. You will not have a public housing complex next door to mansions. So involved parents (which are often wealthier, more educated, and are more likely to have stay at home moms or even retired parents with more time) won’t ever exist in many of the failing schools.
The average public school in my area has taxpayer costs that are about twice that of the Catholic school tuitions. Granted, the special needs children are often not accommodated at the Catholic schools, and so one would expect some elevated cost for the public schools. But the point is that more money often fails to improve results.
So when you are as pessimistic as I am about public schools, the concept of sending my children there to improve quality for everyone really is completely unconvincing. I think society is better served by sending my children to schools that will instill values and provide an education that will prepare them for college and beyond.
I should say that the Catholic school I attended provided me with an incredibly exceptional high school experience. It was a school where we were taught to solve problems with words and intellect rather than violence - fights almost never happened (the one time I heard about one, it was a student who broke it up before faculty could get there). It was a school where service was taught, with every student required to complete a certain number of service hours each year, with many students exceeding the requirement by leaps and bounds. Parents were a constant presence at extra-curricular events. Regardless of your socioeconomic background, the question to ask seniors was “Where are you going to college?” not “Are you going to college?” or “What are your plans after graduation?” After 4 and 1/2 years of college, I can say for certain that my best friends in the world are still my high school friends - if I got married tomorrow, my entire wedding party would be my brothers and my high school friends.