The State of School Choice in 2010

The 2009-10 School Choice Yearbook (PDF) is out, and it’s full of interesting statistics and facts.

What do school choice programs look like? “There are now 18 publicly funded private school choice programs operating in 11 states and the District of Columbia. These programs are evenly divided between school voucher programs (9) and scholarship tax credit programs (9). Of the 18 programs in existence, five
are specifically designed to assist children with special needs.” The yearbook describes the various sorts of programs that are available.

The average amount per child: $3,373, which is a pittance compared with total spending by school districts–but enough to get some children new options. The state with the largest number of students who benefit is Florida, with nearly 47,000 students participating.

Last year, legislatures created new programs: “Indiana’s legislature created a $2.5 million individual and corporate scholarship tax credit program.”

They also expanded old ones: “Florida approved, with record bipartisan support, a dramatic
expansion to its tax credit program—making that program the largest in the nation.”

Iowa let companies receive tax credits for donations to student scholarship funds. Previously, only individual and family taxpayers could receive the credits.

Louisiana put more money into a scholarship program for students in New Orleans. (This is on top of the city’s massive charter school program.)

Utah put more money into a scholarship program for children with autism.

How many children participate in school choice programs? About 180,000. That’s a rounding error in the total number of students (about 46 million), but you have to start somewhere.

Another bright spot: School choice is picking up support, slowly, among both progressives and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats: “Prominent Democratic supporters of private school choice include: Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Robert Byrd, Senator Joe Lieberman, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, Louisiana State Senator Ann Duplessis, and former U.S. Representative Carrie Meek. Furthermore, a majority of school choice programs enacted over the past five years have been approved by a Democratic legislative body or signed by a Democratic governor.”

On the other hand, school choice programs came under fire in a number of states, including Arizona, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. A popular (with parents) voucher program in Washington DC was effectively ended.

The yearbook also offers a review of how students perform in school choice programs, their financial impact (generally, saving money).

Unfortunately, school choice in Kansas is limited, especially for children in low-income families who might not be able to afford to move to another school district or pay even $3,000-$4,000 for private school tuition. There are some charter schools, but they are few and far between. Virtual schools are one option, as is homeschooling.

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