Research & Commentary: Burdensome Regulations Prevent High-Quality Schools from Participating in Voucher Programs in Ohio and Milwaukee

Published November 15, 2018

A new Cato Institute Policy Analysis by Corey DeAngelis and Blake Hoarty finds that onerous regulations are reducing high-quality schools from participating in school voucher programs. The authors also suggest these regulations are leading to a more lower-quality schools to participate in heavily-regulated programs because they are more desperate for the additional funding these programs would provide.

DeAngelis and Hoarty studied the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) and Ohio’s Educational Choice Scholarship Program (ECSP), which enroll a combined 50,000 students in more than 600 participating schools.

“We find significant evidence to suggest that regulations deter high-quality private schools from participating in voucher programs in Ohio and Milwaukee,” the authors conclude. “Specifically, a $1,000 increase in tuition is associated with a 3 percent lower likelihood of participation in the Milwaukee voucher program and a 3.8 percent lower likelihood of participation in Ohio. We also find that a one-point increase in a GreatSchools review score is associated with a 14.8 percent reduction in the likelihood of participation in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. Ironically, while regulators hope to prevent disadvantaged families from choosing bad schools, voucher program regulations appear to have limited the quality of educational options available to low-income families in Milwaukee and Ohio.”

According to a 2018 survey from Education Next, the majority of Americans are in favor of school vouchers. The survey revealed 54 percent of Americans support a universal school voucher program. The 54 percent support for vouchers is a 9 percentage point increase from the 2017 survey results. Furthermore, 67 percent of Hispanics, 53 percent of blacks, and 47 percent of Democrats said they support school vouchers. Disapproval of vouchers dropped to 31 percent overall. EdChoice’s December 2017 Schooling in America survey had similar results: Sixty-two percent of respondents said they support voucher programs.

The increased support for voucher programs is not surprising. Copious empirical research shows these programs, and other school choice programs, offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances. Additionally, these programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.

Furthermore, a recent EdChoice audit of 16 voucher programs across the United States found these programs have “generated cumulative net savings to state and local budgets” of $3.2 billion. This equates to $3,400 saved per child enrolled in school voucher programs. In fiscal year 2015 alone, these programs generated more than $408 million in total savings. In Ohio, ECSP has saved Buckeye State taxpayers a cumulative $430 million, or $3,900 per child enrolled, while MPCP has saved Badger State residents $343 million, or $1,200 per child enrolled.

“It would be wise for decisionmakers to reduce the costs of private school participation by deregulating these two programs,” the authors recommend. “Both programs require all participating private schools to administer the state standardized assessment and mandate that private schools accept the voucher funding as full payment, even if the amount is well below tuition levels … Instead of trying to control the decisions that low-income families make regarding their children’s schools, we ought to empower these families with the freedom to make educational decisions for their own kids. This additional freedom would lead to more options for the families that need them the most and a more educated society for all of us.”

Limiting regulations on school choice programs will likely lead to more higher-quality schools participating. This means more open seats in these programs and more educational options for participating families. The school a child attends should not be determined solely by his or her ZIP code. Children should not be forced to attend a public school their parents believe is failing to properly educate them or to keep them safe. The goal of public education in the United States should be to enable all parents, no matter their income level, to choose which schools their children attend.

The following documents provide more information about school choice programs.

Who Participates? An Analysis of School Participation Decisions in Two Voucher Programs in the United States
This Cato Institute Policy Analysis by Corey DeAngelis and Blake Hoarty finds that heavy government regulation to voucher programs raises the costs of participation, reducing the number of participating private schools, and ensuring that lower-quality schools are more likely to participate in regulated voucher programs because they are the most desperate for additional enrollment and funding.

The Public Benefit of Private Schooling: Test Scores Rise When There Is More of It
This Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute examines the effect increased access to private schooling has had on international student test scores in 52 countries. The Cato researchers found that a 1 percentage point increase in the share of private school enrollment would lead to moderate increases in students’ math, reading, and science achievement.

The Effects of School Choice on Mental Health
This study from Corey DeAngelis at the Cato Institute and Angela K. Dills of Western Carolina University empirically examines the relationship between school choice and mental health. It finds that states adopting broad-based voucher programs and charter schools witness declines in adolescent suicides and suggests that private schooling reduces the number of times individuals are seen for mental health issues.

Is Public Schooling a Public Good? An Analysis of School Externalities
This study from Corey A. DeAngelis of the Cato Institute finds public schooling fails both conditions specified in the standard economic definition of a “public good.” It finds that public schooling in the United States has had a net negative externality of at least $1.3 trillion relative to publicly funded universal school vouchers over the lifetime of the current cohort of children in government schools. DeAngelis concludes the federal government should not operate schools at the local, state, or federal levels on the basis of schooling being considered a public good, nor should taxpayers fund government schooling indirectly through the tax system on the basis of schooling being a merit good. He recommends instead that education should be funded directly to students, not to schools, through a universal education savings account program.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

Fiscal Effects of School Vouchers: Examining the Savings and Costs of America’s Private School Voucher Programs
In this EdChoice study, Director of Fiscal Policy and Analysis Martin F. Lueken examined the fiscal impact of voucher programs across America—from their inception through fiscal year 2015—to determine whether they generated costs or savings for state and local taxpayers. Lueken found these programs generated cumulative net savings to state and local budgets of $3.2 billion. This represents a $3,400 savings per voucher recipient.

Education Savings Accounts: The Future of School Choice Has Arrived
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses how universal ESA programs offer the most comprehensive range of educational choices to parents, describes the six ESA programs currently in operation, and reviews possible state-level constitutional challenges to ESA programs.

Protecting Students with Child Safety Accounts
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Vicki Alger, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and research fellow at the Independent Institute, and Policy Analyst Tim Benson detail the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and assault taking place in America’s public schools and the difficulties for parents in having their child moved from a school that is unsafe for them. Alger and Benson propose a Child Safety Account program, which would allow parents to immediately have their child moved to a safe school—private, parochial, or pub­lic—as soon as parents feel the public school their child is currently attending is too dangerous to their child’s physical or emotion­al health.

Ten State Solutions to Emerging Issues
This Heartland booklet explores solutions to the top public policy issues facing the states in 2018 and beyond in the areas of budget and taxes, education, energy and environment, health care, and constitutional reform. The solutions identified are proven reform ideas that have garnered significant support among the states and with legislators.

Competition: For the Children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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