Vouchers, Tax Credit Scholarships, and Education Savings Accounts

The Parents’ Campaign agrees with our state constitution: our public tax dollars should support an education system that welcomes all children. Funding schools that refuse to educate some students is not an appropriate use of public dollars.

The Lie of School Choice

When it comes to school choice (vouchers for private school tuition), it isn’t parents who do the choosing. Private schools choose their students, not the other way around. Public schools work differently. They guarantee a spot for all children in the district, no questions asked.

Not so with vouchers. Parents can apply for and be awarded a voucher in states that allow them, but the private voucher schools can accept or reject any child. And, if the private schools decide at any point that the voucher kids are inconvenient, they can kick them to the curb. Don’t be fooled by the lie of school choice – it’s the schools that get to choose.

The special education voucher program adopted by our State Legislature is a perfect example. A third of the students who were awarded vouchers through this program did not use them and returned to their public schools. Many of their parents reported that no private school would accept their child. 

School Choice in Mississippi

Vouchers are state-funded certificates that are used to pay tuition to private schools. Mississippians have been so opposed to using taxpayer dollars to fund private schools that our constitution bans these voucher payments. Savvy folks who have long sought to privatize our public schools now are attempting to circumvent the constitution – and the will of the people – through tax credit scholarships, also called neo-vouchers, and education savings accounts, a new method of funneling state tax dollars to private schools.

In the 2014 Legislative Session, 12 bills were filed that would have diverted public funding to private and home schools. All of those bills were defeated or died in the legislative process.

In 2015, nine such bills were filed, eight of which were defeated or died in the legislative process. After significant debate in both chambers, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 2695 granting public funding to private schools through vouchers for children with special needs. The Senate and House were presented with alternative legislation containing measures to bolster special education services in public schools. The alternative measures were narrowly defeated in the House and ultimately lost in both chambers. In SB 2695, the private schools receiving vouchers do not have to provide special education services, even though the vouchers are promoted as an alternative for public school students whose parents are not satisfied with the special education services provided in their child’s public school. In December 2015, halfway through the first year of the voucher program established by SB 2695, the Mississippi Department of Education (MDE) reported that only 107 of 433 available vouchers are in use. Some of the parents whose children with special needs qualified and were approved for vouchers told MDE that they could not find private schools that would accept their children.

More on Vouchers for Special Needs Children 

The National Center for Learning Disabilities opposes voucher programs, noting that the use of vouchers eliminates the guarantee of a “least restrictive environment” and lowers academic expectations for children with disabilities, among other concerns outlined in their 2014 issue brief. The Council for Exceptional Children also opposes vouchers, saying that voucher programs contradict and undermine the purpose of laws designed to protect students with disabilities. Read more here. See letters to legislators from Starkville and Jackson County parents of children with special needs – these parents oppose vouchers and want more resources for special education services in their public schools. Special education teachers and administrators have spoken out on their concerns about children with disabilities being placed in unregulated environments where special services are not required. Click here to read a letter from the president of the Mississippi Council of Administrators of Special Education (MS-CASE) to members of the Mississippi Senate.


The following information is provided by The Parents’ Campaign Research and Education Fund:

How Tax Credit Scholarships and Education Savings Accounts Work 

Neo-vouchers, or tax credit scholarships, circumvent the school funding process by granting dollar-for-dollar state tax credits to those who provide private school tuition “scholarships.” For example, if you owe $5,000 in state income taxes but you make a $5,000 “donation” for a tuition scholarship to a private school, you get a $5,000 tax credit – so you owe the state nothing in taxes. In essence, the state has paid the tuition scholarship by granting you a tax waiver. It is a clear circumvention of the intent of our constitution. Nevertheless, some are eager to pass a bill making it legal in Mississippi. 

Education savings accounts are proposed in model legislation by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This tactic also is designed to circumvent state law, this time by handing parents state tax dollars that have been diverted from public schools in exchange for a commitment from the parents to use the funds for any of a variety of “educational” purposes, such as private schools, tutoring, cyber schools, textbooks, etc. In the model legislation being floated by ALEC, there is little to no accountability or oversight for the expenditure of these funds. 

Most interesting in this “voucher by any other name” landscape is the fact that research consistently shows that these sorts of schemes – even when they are intended to help at-risk students escape low-performing schools – provide no achievement benefit. The students do no better in the private schools than they did in the public schools.

Research on Vouchers and Tax Credit Scholarships

Gains in achievement are about the same for low income students receiving vouchers as they are for comparable public school students.1

Long-term studies of voucher programs in Milwaukee2, the oldest school choice/voucher program in the U.S., Cleveland3,4, and the District of Columbia5 found no advantage in academic achievement for students attending private schools with vouchers.

In Louisiana’s voucher program, students lost the equivalent of almost half a school year’s learning in math and lost ground in reading, science, and social studies as well. Louisiana students using vouchers to attend private schools were 24-50% more likely to score below Basic (failing) in the four tested subjects than comparable students in public schools.6

Milwaukee, which introduced vouchers in 1990 and by 2014 provided them to 25,000 students annually, requires its voucher students to take the same Wisconsin state tests used in the public schools. This allows a comparison of private school voucher students and public school students, all of whom reside within the city of Milwaukee. Performance results from the 2013-2014 school year showed slightly lower proficiency rates for voucher students in both math and reading as compared to their public school peers.7

Annual studies of Florida’s tax credit (voucher) program continue to show negligible changes for private school voucher students. Of the 158 private voucher schools reporting more than 30 students, only 18 schools achieved statistically significant, though small, gains in reading and math from 2011 – 2014. Another 31 schools produced statistically significant losses over the three-year period. Most schools’ voucher students performed about the same as they had in previous years, neither gaining nor losing ground when compared to their peers nationally (Florida no longer reports comparative scores for in-state public school and voucher students).8

Competition and choice have failed to produce achievement gains in the countries that have tried the approach, while global leaders in achievement (Korea, Finland, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Canada) have succeeded by building capacity within public schools. A study of Indiana’s voucher program found that all of its core concepts are contrary to these best practices of high-achieving nations – improving teacher quality and instructional practices, encouraging mentoring and collaboration, and investing sufficient resources to implement changes.9

A Real-world Example of How Competition Affects Achievement

School choice proponents claim that the mere existence of competition from voucher-receiving private schools generates improvement in nearby public schools. Milwaukee offers a real-world example of how a “competitive marketplace” of education options affects achievement in traditional public schools. After 25 years of voucher competition, more than 80% of the city’s public school and voucher students are not proficient in reading and math.10 Moreover, Milwaukee Public School District is among the lowest ranking in NAEP scores of all large urban districts in the U.S.11

 
Sources

1 Keeping Informed About School Vouchers: A Review of Major Developments and Research, Center on Education Policy, 2011 See report

2 Comprehensive Longitudinal Evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program: Summary of Fourth Year Reports, 2011

3 Evaluation of the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program: Summary Report, Indiana University, 1998-2004, 2006

4 The Evidence on Education Vouchers: An Application to the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program, City University of New York, 2006, commissioned by the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education

5 Evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program: Final Report, University of Arkansas and Georgetown University, 2010, commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education

6 School Vouchers & Student Achievement: First-Year Evidence from Louisiana Scholarship Program, National Bureau of Economic Research, 2015 See report

7 Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2014

8 Evaluation of the Florida Tax Credit Program, Florida State University, 2015

9 Analysis of Indiana School Choice Scholarship Program, Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, 2015 See report

10 Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 2014

11 National Assessment of Educational Progress, National Center for Education Statistics, 2013