Voucher Growth Depends on Schools Willing to Participate

Published September 1, 2003

In Florida, leading Democratic lawmakers are making a concerted pitch to impose additional regulations, audits, and oversight on the hundreds of private schools that accept scholarships funded by the state’s corporate tax credit program.

However, as Robin Rennick of the Coalition for McKay Scholarship Schools pointed out to a Palm Beach Post reporter, if additional rules prove too onerous, many private schools would no longer participate in these privately funded voucher programs.

The increase in the number of participating schools has been a key factor in the growth of new publicly funded voucher programs since 1990. Once serving just 341 students in Milwaukee in 1990-91, such programs served 26,087 students in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Florida in 2002-03. Remarkably, enrollment growth in just three years–1998-99, 2001-02, and 2002-03–accounts for almost 17,000 of that increase. During those years, the number of participating private schools increased significantly.

In 1998-99, the number of private schools participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program jumped from 23 to 83 after the U.S. Supreme Court let stand the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s approval of the program, thus significantly reducing the business risk associated with participation. Enrollment in the program jumped from 1,545 in 1997-98 to 6,085 in 1998-99.

When it started in 2000-01, Florida’s McKay Scholarship Program attracted the participation of 120 private schools to serve 977 students. Initially, the private schools were required to “accept as full tuition and fees the amount provided by the state for each student.” A year later, the Florida legislature removed that restriction and other provisions from the program.

The changes allowed “add-ons” for parents to supplement the state voucher amount for their child, kick-starting market forces by letting the market determine tuition. In the next two years, the number of private schools participating jumped from 120 to 360 in 2001-02 and approximately 600 in 2002-03. The number of scholarship students jumped from 977 to 5,016 to 8,728.

According to a Florida Department of Education official, removal of the tuition cap has been a significant factor in the increase in schools participating in the program.

George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

Details of taxpayer-funded voucher programs, including year-by-year enrollments and costs for most programs, are available at the Web site of the American Education Reform Council at http://www.schoolchoiceinfo.org/facts/index.cfm#