Vouchers and Tax Credit Scholarships
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 figured out that they could circumvent the constitution - and the will of the people - through tax credit scholarships, also called neo-vouchers.
How tax credit scholarships (neo-vouchers) work:
Rather than waiting until the tax dollars reach the public coffers and then paying the private school tuition voucher, neo-vouchers, or tax credit scholarships, circumvent that process by granting dollar-for-dollar tax credits to those who provide the tuition "scholarships." For example, if you owe $5,000 in 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 in leadership are eager to pass a bill making it legal in Mississippi.
Equally interesting is the fact that research consistently shows that these sorts of scholarships - even when they are used to help low-income students escape failing schools - provide no achievement benefit. The students do no better in the private schools than they did in the public schools.
What the research says about vouchers and tax credits:
Gains in achievement are about the same for low income students receiving vouchers as they are for comparable public school students (see sources below). Though some research indicates that the competition from these voucher programs is responsible for improvement in the neighboring traditional public schools, peer reviews of those studies found them to lack rigor, to overemphasize the relationship between vouchers and improvement in the public schools, and to assign all credit for improvement in traditional schools to vouchers rather than to the significant school improvement initiatives that have been implemented statewide.
A study of Florida's voucher program had similar results:
A 2012 study of Florida's tax credit (voucher) program showed that test score gains of participants are virtually identical to those of income eligible non-participants remaining in Florida public schools.
- Evaluation of the Florida Tax Credit Program, University of Florida, Northwestern University, and National Bureau of Economic Research, 2012
- Keeping Informed About School Vouchers: A Review of Major Developments and Research, Center on Education Policy, 2011 See the study.
- Comprehensive Longitudinal Evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program: Summary of Fourth Year Reports, 2011
- Evaluation of the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program: Summary Report, Indiana University, 1998-2004, 2006
- 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
- Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Final Report, University of Arkansas and Georgetown University, 2010, commission by the U.S. Department of Education