Americans today choose from a dizzying array of schools, loosely lumped into categories of “public” and “private.” How did these distinctions emerge in the first place, and what do they tell us about the more general relationship in the United States between public authority and private enterprise? Public vs. Private describes how nineteenth-century public policies fostered the rise of modern school choice. In the late nineteenth century, American Catholics began constructing rival, urban parochial school systems, an enormous and dramatic undertaking that challenged public school systems’ near-monopoly of education. In a nation deeply committed to public education, mass attendance in Catholic private schools produced immense conflict. States quickly sought ways to regulate this burgeoning private sector and the competition it produced, even attempting to abolish private education altogether in the 1920s. Ultimately, however, Public vs. Private shows how the public policies that resulted produced a stable educational marketplace, where school choice flourished. The creation of systematic alternatives to public schools was as much a product of public power as of private initiative. As ever more policies today seek to unleash market forces in education, Public vs. Private concludes that Americans would do well to learn from the historical relationship between government, markets, and schools.