December 30, 2023

Jan Resseger: 2023: The Year School Vouchers Became an Entitlement for Wealthy Children

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Jan Resseger takes a look back at what happened to school vouchers this year. The data show who is really benefitting. Reposted with permission. 

This year may go down as the year of the school voucher. Seven states passed new voucher programs and ten states expanded private school tuition vouchers in 2023. This year’s trend was marked by an especially disturbing development: many of the state legislatures turned school privatization into an entitlement for the children of the wealthy.

For POLITICOAndrew Atterbury recently highlighted the explosion of private school vouchers across more than a dozen states this year, “fueled, in part, by groups like the American Federation for Children—founded by former Trump administration Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.” But while advocates used to promote vouchers as a way to expand opportunity for poor children, many of these states are making wealthy children eligible: “That dynamic—the wealthy benefiting from vouchers while the poor are stuck—appears to be playing out nationally. While school choice is especially popular for families with incoming kindergarteners, data shows students who are accessing thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds are often already enrolled in private schools. In Florida, 84,505, or 69 percent, of these new voucher recipients were already enrolled in private school.  A much smaller group—16,096, or 13 percent of voucher students—left their public schools to enter the program. Another 22,294 students began kindergarten with a scholarship… More than half of the voucher funding in Arizona is going to students previously enrolled in private school, homeschooling or other non-public options… In a similar trend, nearly all students participating in the $32.5 million Arkansas voucher program—95 percent—were either entering kindergarten, or enrolled in a private school the previous year.”

And what about family income?  “Nearly half of new enrollees to Florida’s expanded scholarship program—53,828 students—are above the previous income thresholds for scoring Florida’s scholarships…. In Arizona, 45 percent of scholarship applicants came from the wealthiest quarter of students in the state.”

When Ohio’s legislature expanded school vouchers as part of the state budget, the state did so by raising the income eligibility level—creating a government-funded entitlement for all families no matter how high their income.

NPR’s George Shillcock reports that, according to November 29, 2023 data, while, “the Ohio Legislative Services Commission initially estimated the EdChoice Voucher program would cost $397 million this fiscal year for the new vouchers… the numbers are now out and show over 66,000 families applied to the new program costing $412 million this year alone. In total, over 90,000 families applied to the school voucher program… including renewals from previous years and the Cleveland Scholarship Program, costing more than $580 million.”

Blogger and former member of the Ohio House of Representatives, Steve Dyer examines which families are benefiting from Ohio’s 2023 school voucher entitlement: “According to state data, more new EdChoice Expansion Voucher high school recipients come from families making more than $150,000 a year than families making less than $120,000 a year… There are more new vouchers flowing to subsidize private high school students whose families make as much as $250,000 a year… than there are flowing to subsidize private high school students whose families make less than 1/2 that much. An astounding $1.3 million of your tax dollars went to subsidize the private school tuition of families who make more than $250,000 a year!”  Data is not available to document how many of Ohio’s new vouchers are being awarded to simply cover tuition for children already enrolled in private schools.

No state has established a new tax to pay for its new voucher program. States expanding their investment in vouchers will pay for the private school vouchers at the expense of their public schools, thereby dismantling the one public institution with the capacity to serve the educational needs and protect the rights of all children. Private schools, on the other hand, may select their students and push out those whose test scores lag or who struggle with behavior problems; may charge tuition above the value of the voucher; may neglect to provide school transportation or free school lunch for children who cannot afford the school’s lunch; and in many states are not required to hire certified teachers. Public schools serve children everywhere, including the rural counties and small towns with too few school-aged children to have any private schools where students might use a voucher.

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