Research & Commentary: Maryland Should Boost Funding for BOOST Program

Published December 15, 2016

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has announced a proposal to double the funding for the state’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today Program (BOOST), a voucher program for low-income students that was enacted earlier in 2016.

In its first year, BOOST provided vouchers for 2,447 participating students at 171 different schools; over 5,000 students applied for the program. Although under the law vouchers can equal the yearly per-pupil statewide average, the average reward was only $1,943. Families with an income up to 100 percent of the level set to qualify for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, which was $44,955 for a family of four in 2016, are eligible for the BOOST program. This amounts to about one-quarter of Maryland families.

BOOST received a $5 million appropriation in 2016, and Hogan’s proposal would increase this to $10 million over the next three years. 

The available empirical evidence on school voucher programs has been positive. In May 2016, EdChoice released a report examining 100 empirical studies on school choice programs. Eighteen of these studies used random assignment to measure outcomes, referred to in academia as the “gold standard.” Of the 18 gold standard studies, 14 show education choice improved student outcomes.

Thirty-three of the studies examined in the report weighed the effect education choice has had on outcomes for children still in public schools, and overwhelmingly they found that education choice improved outcomes for public school students. Only one of the studies reported negative outcomes for public school students as a result of school choice programs.

Twenty-five of the 28 studies measuring the fiscal impact of school choice policies found the studied programs save taxpayer money; the other three found the studies to be revenue neutral. Not a single empirical study found school choice programs have had a “negative fiscal impact.”

Nine of the 10 studies looking into school choice programs’ effect on racial segregation found school choice helps to integrate schools by moving students out of schools that tend to be more highly segregated. Not one empirical study examined by EdChoice found school choice programs increased segregation.

“The results are not difficult to explain,” the study says. “School choice improves academic outcomes for participants and public schools by allowing students to find the schools that best match their needs and by introducing healthy competition that keeps schools mission-focused. It saves money by eliminating administrative bloat and rewarding good stewardship of resources [and it] breaks down the barriers of residential segregation, drawing students together from diverse communities.”

Only 40 percent of Maryland 4th graders and 35 percent of 8th graders tested “proficient” in math on the 2015 National Association of Education Progress (NAEP) test, also known as the Nation’s Report Card. Only 37 percent of 4th graders and 8th graders tested proficient in reading. These results show Maryland’s public school system is failing to educate roughly six out of 10 4th grade and 8th grade students to a proficient level in reading and mathematics. Further, these scores have been declining over the past four years.

Maryland’s sub-standard performance on NAEP underscores the desperate need for the state to expand school choice opportunities far beyond what is currently available. Too many public schools in Maryland are failing to adequately prepare students for productive lives. Parents should be allowed to choose the schools their children attend and should not be penalized financially if that choice is a private religious or secular school.

The overwhelming majority of the available empirical evidence, as the EdChoice study shows, makes it clear educational choice offers families equal access to high-quality schools that meet their widely diverse needs and desires – and does so at a lower cost – while simultaneously benefitting public school students. Voucher programs can give all families a greater opportunity to meet each child’s unique education needs. The goal should be to allow every parent to choose, require every school to compete, and give every child an opportunity to attend a quality school.

The following documents provide more information on school vouchers and education choice.

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.

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.

Research & Commentary: Indiana School Choice Parental Satisfaction Should Lead to More School Choice–commentary-indiana-school-choice-parental-satisfaction-should-lead-to-more-school-choice?source=policybot
In this Research & Commentary, Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson examines an expanded, follow-up study to a 2014 report by EdChoice that examines why Indiana parents choose to take advantage of the state’s Choice Scholarship Program voucher and use it to send their children to private schools.

The Legal Landscape of Parental-Choice Policy
The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris cleared away the most significant obstacle to the expansion of private school choice programs by ruling the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause does not preclude faith-based schools from participating in private school choice programs. These programs raise other important legal questions, which fall into four categories: the scope of students’ rights to an education and parents’ rights to choose their children’s schools; state constitutional obstacles to private school choice; the effect of laws governing racial integration and the inclusion of disabled students; and the religious liberty implications of faith-based schools participating in such programs. The American Enterprise Institute (AEI) writes the lack of clarity on these questions poses challenges, but AEI also says these questions create opportunities for proponents of private school choice to scale up existing programs and expand program options.

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.

How School Choice Programs Can Save Money 
This Heritage Foundation study of the fiscal impact of voucher programs notes Washington, DC vouchers cost only 60 percent of what the city spends per pupil in government schools. The study estimates if the states with the top eight education expenditures per pupil adopted voucher programs similar to the Washington, DC program, they could save a combined $2.6 billion per year.

How School Choice Can Create Jobs
Examining five South Carolina counties, Sven R. Larson found school choice programs were associated with gains of up to 25 percent in youth self-employment. Larson writes, “School Choice raises academic achievement and reduces the problems and costs associated with high school dropouts. But it also has a decisively positive impact on youth entrepreneurship and could provide a critical boost for the economies of poor, rural counties.”


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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