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Voucher Programs

Tuition Vouchers

Tuition vouchers provide families with public funds to pay for private or religious school tuition. The reasons for opposing tuition vouchers include:

  • Research shows vouchers don’t improve student outcomes; in fact, voucher recipients have been shown to fare worse academically.
  • Vouchers drain resources from already underfunded public schools, thereby undermining their ability to meet student needs.
  • Vouchers rarely cover the full cost of private school tuition or additional fees for transportation, uniforms, meals, books, etc., so they are often a public subsidy for affluent families at a sharp cost to public schools.
  • Vouchers enable discrimination:
    • Private and religious schools can reject students based on disability status or other characteristics, whereas public schools must serve all students, including those who require more costly services.
    • Voucher programs can create schools segregated by race, class, income and disability status.
    • Private schools may reject LGBTQ students or others who don’t meet their religious criteria.

Vouchers use public funds for private purposes, including payment to religious schools, violating the separation of church and state.

Approximately half of all tuition vouchers target students with disabilities. The reasons for opposing vouchers for special education include:

  • Students with special needs can be rejected by private schools receiving public dollars; public schools take all comers.
  • Students using vouchers for private schools generally waive all rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which include:
    • The right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE);
    • The right to learn in the least restrictive environment;
    • The right to the same level of special education services that a child would be eligible for in a public school;
    • The right to state-certified or college-educated teachers;
    • The right to a hearing to dispute disciplinary action.
  • Information about the waiver of IDEA rights and other facts crucial to making an informed decision about appropriate services is not readily available to parents.

Tax Credit Scholarship Vouchers

As of May 2017, 17 states provide individuals or corporations with up to a 100% tax credit on donations to private, non-profit organizations that issue “scholarships” to K-12 students. Families eligible to participate receive funds to pay for private or religious school tuition at institutions approved by the scholarship organization.

The reasons for opposing tax credit scholarships include:

  • Research shows students who use tax credit scholarship vouchers to transfer from public to private schools lose ground academically.
  • Competition from tax credit scholarship vouchers doesn’t improve public schools. Using the tax code to incentivize privatization strips resources from already underfunded public schools.
  • Although one step removed from direct payment of public funds to private and religious schools, states with tax credit voucher programs heavily incentivize donations to private and religious schools.
  • Just like tuition voucher programs, tax credit scholarship vouchers enable discrimination.
  • Tax credit programs do not hold private schools accountable for providing a quality education.
  • Tax credit programs disproportionately benefit the wealthy at public expense. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic policy, a non-partisan group that studies the effects of tax codes on low- and middle-income families, donors can “double dip,” receiving both state tax credit and a federal charitable tax exemption of up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Education Savings Account Vouchers (ESA)

ESA vouchers are public funds (generally a percentage of per-pupil expenditures) given to families to use to pay for private or religious school tuition or other “education” expenses, such as tutoring, online coursework, transportation or therapies. Unused funds typically roll over into a personal college savings account or are returned to the state.

In 2016, the Supreme Court of Nevada blocked that state’s unlimited ESA program, for which all public school students were eligible, on the grounds that the use of public school funds for private schools and other private services was unconstitutional under the state constitution. 

As of April 2017, four states have active ESA programs. All programs were initially established for students with disabilities only. This was the case in Arizona, where an ESA program was instituted in 2011 for students with disabilities. The program was expanded to include children in low test score schools, children from military families, those living on Native American reservations, foster children, and the brothers and sisters of students receiving ESAs. During the most recent session, the Arizona Legislature further expanded the program to include all K-12 public school students. The expansion is capped at 5500 students per year, for a total of 30,000 students by 2022.  

The reasons for opposing ESA vouchers include:

  • Research shows vouchers, including ESAs, don’t improve student outcomes.
  • ESAs take resources away from already underfunded public schools.
  • Just like other voucher programs, ESAs enable discrimination.
  • ESA vouchers rarely provide enough funds to cover the full cost of private school tuition or the cost of transportation, uniforms, meals, books, etc., making them a public subsidy for affluent families at a sharp cost to public schools.
  • ESA vouchers lack accountability:
    • Programs generally do not include sufficient mechanisms to ensure public funds will be spent appropriately.
    • Some ESAs require no standardized assessments of student performance. Others allow alternative assessments that make comparisons of public school student performance and ESA student performance very difficult.
    • Currently, no states tie a private education provider’s approval for participation in the program to the performance of ESA students.
  • Vouchers use public funds for private purposes, including payment to religious schools, violating the separation of church and state.