A Backpack Full of Dollars

Jarvis DeBerry wrote a column Sunday, February 5, 2012 for the Times-Picayune asking for proof that school vouchers are worth having. Within the column he draws some incorrect assumptions about voucher proponents. Such as:

“We are asked to accept it as truth that schools that are privately funded are by their very nature better than publicly funded campuses.” He goes on to say, “The pro-voucher argument hangs tenuously on this point: Parents are reaching into their pockets to send their children to private schools; ergo, the quality of the education there must be better.”

Before we even look at the numbers, lets first explore the philosophy behind school vouchers. I haven’t read anyone saying “without a doubt, private schools are better than public or charter schools.” The whole point of vouchers logically follows the proven effectiveness of families being empowered to choose what public/charter school to send their children to to further expand their options to include private schools. 

Families are paying for the public education of their children through property and sales taxes either directly or indirectly regardless of whether the child actually attends public school. Also contributing to this tax base are families and individuals without children. Without vouchers, those families who choose to either homeschool or send their children to private school are paying for a system they receive no explicitly direct benefit from for their children.

Now imagine, a family cannot get their child into a public or charter school they like but a slot is available at a private school who’s track record is strong. However, they cannot afford tuition out of pocket and no scholarships are available. Vouchers make the funding system of education equitable. The money truly follows the student to the school they attend, i.e. “backpack full of dollars.”

Onto the numbers. The Reason Foundation’s Annual Privatization Report on Education for 2010 (the 2011 edition should be available soon) provides in depth factual support for voucher and tax credit systems. Some highlights:

  • “In 2010 the Department of Education released the final report of the evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program. The report found that students who were randomly selected to receive vouchers had an 82% graduation rate. That’s 12 percentage points higher than the students who didn’t receive vouchers. Students who actually used  their vouchers had graduation rates that were 21% higher.”
  • “A February 2010 analysis by School Choice Wisconsin found that students who receive vouchers from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) graduate at a 12% higher rate than students in the Milwaukee public schools.”
  • “A 2010 study from Northwestern University finds that competition from private school vouchers has led to academic improvements in Florida’s public schools. After the state began offering tax-credit scholarships to low-income students in 2001, students in public schools with a greater and more diverse array of private schools around them showed greater gains in standardized test scores than students in other public schools, as found by David Figlio and Cassandra Hart at Northwestern University.”

Also, to the point of a few commenters on Mr. DeBerry’s original column, vouchers actually save states money!

  • In Arizona, “an analysis by the state’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee showed that every student who would transfer from a public school to a private school because of the program would save the state’s general fund an average of $5,000 in one year because the cost of the school voucher is much less than the state’s per pupil education allocation.”
  • “The two-year-old Georgia Scholarship Tax Credit Program is estimated to save taxpayers approximately $5.9 million a year, and the Indiana Scholarship Tax Credit Program is slated to save the state anywhere from $6.4 million to $17.6 million per year after five years of operation, according to studies by the Indiana-based Foundation for Educational Choice.”
  • In Pennsylvania, “the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives estimates that if all the children receiving scholarships between the 2001–02 school year and the 2006–07 school year attended public schools instead, it would have cost the state an additional $1.5 billion dollars over those years.”

The data above should provide more than enough of a starting point for Mr. Deberry, but we can even look to our own state for proof of voucher benefits.

“Low-income students who moved from chronically failing New Orleans public schools to private schools as a result of the Louisiana Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence (SSEE) program demonstrated academic growth on state tests despite their recent school transitions, according to new data released in May 2010. Results from the state’s LEAP tests indicate modest year-to-year growth for scholarship students in core subject areas, on par with what students in the first or second year of scholarship programs typically achieve, experts say.”

Now is the time to be bold and extend the progress in New Orleans education since Katrina. Not only do vouchers definitively produce positive results, it’s also the right thing to do. Allowing the parents of children to use the funds allocated to their child at whatever school, either public, charter or private truly provides accountability to the schools and empowers the students. Which we all can agree is the goal.

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