In a September 2017 study from the Urban Institute, titled The Effects of Statewide Private School Choice on College Enrollment and Graduation, researchers determined the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program (FTC) has led to significant college enrollment gains for its students. The study compared 10,000 students who participated in FTC at some point in their academic careers between 2004 and 2010 with non-participating peers with similar characteristics. According to the data, FTC participation is associated with a 15 percent increase in college enrollment. Of students who participated in FTC for at least four years, the college enrollment rate was 46 percent higher than their non-FTC peers.
“Our study shows that private school choice can make a difference for disadvantaged students,” write authors Matthew Chingos and Daniel Kuehn. “Students in the FTC program, despite coming from low-income families, enrolled in Florida public colleges at almost the same rates as the average student in Florida, regardless of income. The FTC program was particularly beneficial for students born outside the US, although all student demographic groups we examined benefited from the program.”
Tax-credit scholarship (TCS) programs allow qualifying families to pay for tuition and fees at private and parochial schools, as well as at a public school located outside of the student’s school district, using scholarships provided by donors, who, in return, receive tax credits.
A TCS differs from other school choice options in two significant ways. First, the money a TCS uses comes entirely from private sources. This allows a TCS program to avoid state or federal prohibitions against sending money to religious institutions. Second, these programs offer the “cleanest” school choice option, meaning the one with the least burdensome government regulations, because they are not funded by tax collections. Currently, with 21 different programs in 17 states and more than 1.2 million scholarships granted, TCS programs are the most popular form of private school choice in the country.
Enacted in 2001, FTC is the country’s largest school choice program (based on participation). There were more than 98,000 participating students enrolled in greater than 1,700 participating schools in spring 2017. Under FTC, Students from families whose household income is less than 260 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four ($63,180) are eligible for a partial scholarship, while those students whose family household income is below 200 percent of the federal poverty level ($48,600) are eligible for full scholarships. Thirty-eight percent of families in the state are eligible for the program, while the projected average scholarship value for 2016–17 is $5,458.
A study released in October 2016 by EdChoice “estimates the fiscal effects” of 10 of the nation’s 21 TCS programs (comprising 93 percent of all awarded scholarships). It found TCS programs have saved “state governments, state and local taxpayers, and school districts” between $1.7 billion and $3.4 billion through 2014. This comes out to between $1,750 and $3,000 saved per student. The savings in the 2013–14 school year alone, the last year available for study, were between $320 million and $580 million.
The Sunshine State is already a school choice leader, but budget caps on the program mean fewer than 4 percent of all Florida students are enrolled in FTC. Funding for all three of Florida’s private school choice programs amounts to only 3.17 percent of the state’s public K–12 expenditures.
State legislators should, at the very least, consider substantially increasing FTC’s funding. A more dramatic, far-reaching action would be to turn FTC’s sister program – the Gardiner Scholarship education savings account program, which is only open to special-needs students – into a universal program available to all Florida students. When parents are given the opportunity to choose, every school must compete and improve, which gives more children the opportunity to attend a quality school.
The following documents provide more information about tax-credit scholarships and other school choice programs.
The Effects of Statewide Private School Choice on College Enrollment and Graduation: Evidence from the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program
This study from Urban Institute scholars Matthew Chingos and Daniel Kuehn shows Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program boosted college enrollment for participating students by 15 percent, with students enrolled in the program for four or more years seeing a 46 percent hike.
School Choice Fallacies: Disproving Detractors’ Allegations Against Tax-Credit Scholarship Programs
This report from Martin Lueken and Michael Shaw at EdChoice examine tax codes to address claims alleged by school choice detractors, such as: Tax-credit scholarship programs lead to “profit,” “double-dipping,” “get-rich schemes,” and “tax shelters” for donors.
The Tax Credit Scholarship Audit: Do Publicly Funded Private School Choice Programs Save Money?
In this audit, EdChoice Director of Fiscal Policy and Analysis Martin Lueken updates previous work examining the fiscal effects of private school choice programs on state governments, state and local taxpayers, and school districts. Lueken’s report analyzes savings from tax credit scholarship programs, which allow individuals and businesses to reduce their state tax liability by making a private donation to a nonprofit organization that provides scholarships for children to attend private schools of their choice. This audit looks at 10 tax credit scholarship programs operating in seven states between 1997 and 2014. These 10 programs serve 93 percent of all students participating in tax credit scholarship programs nationwide.
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.
2016/17 School Choice Report Card
This report card published by the American Federation for Children scores 27 active non-special-needs voucher, scholarship tax-credit, and education savings account programs against ideal standards for program quality. The report is an excellent tool policymakers and researchers can use to help improve education programs and maximize student participation.
Education Savings Accounts: The Future of School Choice Has Arrived
In this new 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.
Taking Credit for Education: How to Fund Education Savings Accounts through Tax Credits
This Cato Institute paper shows how legislators can design an education savings account (ESA) that is privately funded through tax-credit-eligible contributions from taxpayers, similar to tax-credit scholarship programs that already exist in states across the country. Tax-credit-funded ESAs would empower families with more educational options while enhancing accountability and refraining from coercing anyone to financially support ideas they oppose. Because they are funded through voluntary contributions, rather than public funds, tax-credit scholarships have been found by the U.S. Supreme Court and by every state supreme court that has considered the issue to be within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution and most state constitutions. In states that have Blaine amendments, which greatly restrict the ability of lawmakers to create some school choice programs, tax-credit ESAs could be a lifeline to families in need.
The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts
In the first-ever study of public school districts’ fixed costs in every state and Washington, DC, Benjamin Scafidi concludes approximately 36 percent of school district spending cannot be quickly reduced when students leave. The remaining 64 percent, or approximately $8,000 per student on average, are variable costs, changing directly with student enrollment. This means a school choice program attaching less than $8,000 to each child who leaves a public school for a private school actually leaves the district with more money to spend on each remaining child. In the long run, Scafidi notes, all local district spending is variable, meaning all funds could be attached to individual children over time without creating fiscal problems for government schools.
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.
The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact John Nothdurft, Heartland’s director of government relations, at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.