Wednesday, October 15, 2014

School voucher programs save billions, audit shows

By Maggie Thurber | Franklin Center School Choice Fellow

A recent audit of 10 school voucher programs shows a cumulative savings of at least $1.7 billion since the first program was established in the 1990-91 school year.

The Freidman Foundation for Educational Choice wanted to know if founder Milton Friedman’s concept of school vouchers would not only expand personal freedom and improve achievement, but also save money.

To find out, they took a “cautious, rational estimate of the overall fiscal effects of school voucher programs” established over the last 24 years. They warn that the audit is not a to-the-penny calculation, a look at the average amount of the vouchers and the current costs of educating students in the public school system. If the voucher amount is less than the per-pupil educational costs, there is a savings.

In conducting the audit, the Foundation looked at voucher programs that had been in place for at least three years and only went up to the 2010-11 school year, in order to account for any lag in reporting.

Three Ohio programs, the Cleveland Scholarship Program, the Autism Scholarship Program and the Educational Choice Scholarship Program made the cut.  Also included were two programs from Florida and one each from Washington, D.C., Georgia, Louisiana, Utah and Wisconsin.

Over 500,000 students received vouchers with a total savings since their inception of $1,703,864,521.

Their audit also showed that the pace of the savings growth has outpaced the growth of student participation, “rising 675-fold since 1990.”

Many voucher opponents claim that money diverted to the voucher programs “steals” funds from public education. But most of the time, those arguments ignore the fact that when students leave the public system, the school district no longer has to expend costs to educate them, so there should be savings along with the transfer.

The audit also asks “(i)f  one is opposed to school choice because of its effect on the finances of local public schools, does it not also follow that he or she should favor prohibiting families from moving among public school districts?”

School funding is a complicated, with money from local taxpayers and property owners, state governments and the federal government, each often accompanied by various rules and regulations about how it can be used and for what services.  The audit does address many of these factors, including the recent decline in private school attendance. 

But even with all those other factors, the bottom line is that vouchers have saved taxpayers billions, savings which are certainly enough to justify their continued existence.

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