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Research & Commentary: Choice Programs Are Saving Taxpayers Billions While Producing Better Education Outcomes

May 6, 2021

Forty School Choice Programs Have Saved Between $12.1 And $27.8 Billion Through 2018

A Working Paper released by EdChoice in March 2021 finds that education choice programs have saved taxpayers between $12.1 billion and $27.8 billion through Fiscal Year (FY) 2018.

The Fiscal Effects of Private K–12 Education Programs in the United States, authored by EdChoice’s Director of Fiscal Policy and Analysis Martin Lueken, analyzed data from 40 separate private school choice programs—including 19 voucher programs, 18 tax-credit scholarship programs, and three education savings account (ESA) programs—in 19 different states as well as the District of Columbia. The report also “uses short-run and long-run variable cost estimates to generate lower bounds and upper bounds of the fiscal effects of educational choice program on taxpayers through FY 2018,” Lueken notes. “The longer that a program operates, then the closer the savings approach the upper bound (long-run) estimates. The shorter a program is in place, the closer its fiscal effects to the lower bound (short-run) estimate.”

“Of the 40 programs in the analysis,” Lueken continues, “four programs in this study were in operation for less than 5 years while the remaining 36 programs were in operation for at least 5 years through FY 2018. Thus, for these 36 programs open for five years or more, the fiscal effects of these programs will likely be at or very close to the high-end estimates.”

The $12.1-$27.8 billion range found in the study means that per-pupil net savings come in between $3,200 and $7,400 for each child participating in these programs. This also represents a fiscal savings between $1.80 and $2.80 for each dollar spent on these programs. “These savings result from many of the students who exercised choice would have been enrolled in a public school if these choice programs did not exist—and enrolled in public schools at a much larger taxpayer cost,” Lueken notes. (The cost to support these choice programs in FY 2018 was roughly $5,000 per pupil, while public school per-pupil costs were around $14,000 in the states where these choice programs are located.)

Copious other empirical research on school choice programs such as vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, and ESAs find they offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances, and that these programs improve academic performance and attainment and deliver a quality education at lower cost than traditional public schools. Additionally, these programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.

Research also shows students at private schools are less likely than their public school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link suggesting private school choice programs improve the mental health of participating students.

It is probably for these reasons, and also because teacher unions have repeatedly played politics with school closings during the COVID-19 pandemic in direct conflict with students’ best interests, that education choice is more popular with parents than ever before. Polling done by EdChoice released in December 2020 found 81 percent support for ESAs, for example, among the general public and 86 percent among current school parents, the highest level of support the program has received in the organization’s eight years of polling on the issue. This represents a 4-percentage point increase over 2019. These findings are mirrored in the American Federation for Children’s seventh-annual National School Choice Poll, released in January 2021, which saw 78 percent support for ESA programs. 

“The results from this fiscal analysis are not surprising given that educational choice programs are funded at a significantly lower public expense than public school systems,” Lueken concludes. “Overall, students participating in educational choice programs comprise 2.3 percent of publicly funded K-12 students but represent just 1.0 percent of total public spending. These basic facts provide important background for evaluating claims that private educational choice programs will harm the resource levels for students who remain in district schools. Given this context, it may be difficult to see how expanding educational opportunities for families via educational choice programs could possibly harm public school systems fiscally. To be sure, many studies have examined educational choice programs’ effects on students enrolling in nearby public schools. Nearly all find that students who remain in district schools experience modest and positive gains in learning. Contrary to claims that students in district schools are harmed by increasing educational choice, the evidence suggests otherwise.”

The goal of public education in the United States today and in the years to come should be to allow all parents to choose which schools their children attend, require every school to compete for every student who walks through its doors, and make sure every child has the opportunity to attend a quality school. There has not been a time when providing these opportunities has been more urgent and more needed than right now. Legislators should recognize that and allow families as many options as possible to get their children the education they need and deserve.

The following documents provide more information about education choice programs.

The Fiscal Effects of Private K–12 Education Choice Programs in the United States
https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/The-Fiscal-Effects-of-Private-K-12-Education-Choice-Program-in-the-United-States-1.pdf
From an analysis of 40 private educational choice programs in 19 states plus D.C., this EdChoice working paper summarizes the facts and evidence on the fiscal effects of educational choice programs across the United States. The programs in the analysis include three education savings accounts programs (ESAs), 19 school voucher programs, and 18 tax-credit scholarship programs.

The 123s of School Choice (2021 Edition)
https://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/2021-123s-SlideShare-1.pdf
This report from EdChoice is an in-depth review of the available research on private school choice programs in America. Areas of study include: private school choice program participant test scores, program participant attainment, parent satisfaction, public school students’ test scores, civic values and practices, racial/ethnic integration and fiscal effects.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
http://www.edchoice.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/A-Win-Win-Solution-The-Empirical-Evidence-on-School-Choice.pdf
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

The Public Benefit of Private Schooling: Test Scores Rise When There Is More of It
https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/pubs/pdf/pa830.pdf
This Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute examines the effect increased access to private schooling has had on international student test scores in 52 countries. The Cato researchers found that a 1 percentage point increase in the share of private school enrollment would lead to moderate increases in students’ math, reading, and science achievement.

The Effects of School Choice on Mental Health
https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3272550
This study from Corey DeAngelis at the Cato Institute and Angela K. Dills of Western Carolina University empirically examines the relationship between school choice and mental health. It finds that states adopting broad-based voucher programs and charter schools witness declines in adolescent suicides and suggests that private schooling reduces the number of times individuals are seen for mental health issues.

Child Safety Accounts: Protecting Our Children through Parental Freedom
https://www.heartland.org/_template-assets/documents/publications/CSAccountsPB.pdf
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Vicki Alger, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and research fellow at the Independent Institute, and Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson detail the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and assault taking place in America’s public schools and the difficulties for parents in having their child moved from a school that is unsafe for them. Alger and Benson propose a Child Safety Account program, which would allow parents to immediately have their child moved to a safe school – private, parochial, or pub­lic – as soon as parents feel the public school their child is currently attending is too dangerous to their child’s physical or emotion­al health.

 

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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