Vouchers, Tax Credit Scholarships, and Education Savings Accounts
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 now are attempting to circumvent the constitution - and the will of the people - through tax credit scholarships, also called neo-vouchers, and education savings accounts, a new method of funneling state tax dollars to private schools.
How tax credit scholarships and education savings accounts work:
Neo-vouchers, or tax credit scholarships, circumvent the school funding process by granting dollar-for-dollar state tax credits to those who provide private school tuition "scholarships." For example, if you owe $5,000 in state income 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 are eager to pass a bill making it legal in Mississippi.
Education savings accounts are proposed in model legislation by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This tactic also is designed to circumvent state law, this time by handing parents state tax dollars that have been diverted from public schools in exchange for a commitment from the parents to use the funds for any of a variety of "educational" purposes, such as private schools, tutoring, cyber schools, textbooks, etc. In the model legislation being floated by ALEC, there is little to no accountability or oversight for the expenditure of these funds.
Most interesting in this "voucher by any other name" landscape is the fact that research consistently shows that these sorts of schemes - even when they are intended 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).
Long-term studies of voucher programs in Milwaukee, where vouchers have been used since 1990, Cleveland, and the District of Columbia found "no clear advantage in academic achievement for students attending private schools with vouchers."
Milwaukee's most recent performance results from 2013 revealed that only 13 percent of voucher students scored proficient in math and 11 percent in reading. Both scores were lower than those of students who had remained in public schools.
A 2012 study of Florida's tax credit (voucher) program showed that test score gains of voucher students were virtually identical to those of income eligible students 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