Public Funds Public Schools: Analysis of Private School Vouchers in 2020 Legislative Sessions
Public Funds Public Schools has put together an important five part series looking at legislative attempts to promote private voucher programs in 2020. This may seem like old news, or not terribly sexy, but as voucher advocates mount a full court press in the beginning of 2021, it’s important to understand the recent history of these moves. Summaries and links for all five parts of the series are collected here.
A broad overview of the highlights and lowlights, with some state by state breakdown.
In Mississippi and Ohio, voucher programs ran into troubles, but advocates simply pushed on to make them bigger. Both states serve as a reminder–voucher programs that start out directed at the most needy never stay that small or focused.
Never let a crisis go to waste; many voucher advocates did their best to capitalize on the national health crisis. Here are some of the attempts that were made.
Some of these voucher bills used the physical closure of schools as an excuse for establishing new voucher programs or increasing eligibility or funding for existing ones. Citing the need to “provide an alternative educational option” during the pandemic, a North Carolina bill expanded eligibility for the state’s longstanding voucher program by removing the 40% cap on available voucher funds for students entering kindergarten or first grade and increasing the income eligibility threshold from 133% to 150% of the amount required to qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program.
Numerous attempts to create national school vouchers were made, both before and during the pandemic, by the previous administration. Here are some of the tricks they used, and how they failed.
529 accounts were supposed to be a tax-sheltered means of saving up for your child’s college education. Now some states are expanding them to cover private K-12 tuition
This expansion of 529 accounts well beyond their traditional uses diverts public funds, in this case in the form of lost tax revenue, to subsidize private education expenses. Like other private school vouchers, such 529 expansions result in government subsidization of private schools that often discriminate against students and families based on characteristics such as disability, LGBTQ status, and religion. Furthermore, this expansion disproportionately benefits wealthy families, who are more likely to have sufficient funds in 529 accounts to cover elementary and secondary education expenses as well as college tuition expenses.