Legislation pre-filed in the Missouri Senate would set up a tax credit that provides parents a dollar-for-dollar match for their children’s educational expenses, capped at the state adequacy target—the “minimum amount that will be spent on students in all districts to ensure all students receive an adequate education,” according to the Missouri Budget Project—of $6,375.
The tax credit would be open to all Missouri families, as long as they “shall not have enrolled a qualified student in the taxpayer’s resident school district during the tax year for which the taxpayer is claiming a tax credit.”
Copious empirical research on school choice programs makes clear these programs offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances, and that these programs improve academic performance and attainment and deliver a quality education at lower cost than traditional public schools.
Additionally, education choice benefits public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices. Research also shows students at private schools are less likely than their public school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link suggesting private school choice programs improve the mental health of participating students.
Further, Missouri’s public schools are habitually failing the state’s children. In 2022, only 34 percent of public school fourth-graders and 24 percent of eighth-graders tested “proficient” to grade level in mathematics on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) examination, colloquially known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” Just 30 percent of fourth-graders and 28 percent of eighth-graders tested “proficient” in reading. Essentially, and embarrassingly, the state’s public schools are failing to educate roughly seven out of 10 Missouri children to grade-level proficiency in reading and math.
It is probably these dismal results, and also because teacher unions have repeatedly played politics with school closings during the COVID-19 pandemic in direct conflict with students’ best interests, that education choice programs like ESAs are more popular with parents than ever before. Polling on this issue in Missouri from EdChoice’s “Public Opinion Tracker,” last updated on December 11, finds 68 percent of all Missouri adults and 76 of parents with school-aged children are in favor of school choice programs such as educational savings accounts (ESAs).
This program would be a fine compliment to the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program, the state’s tax-credit-funded ESA program, launched in 2021 and available to low-income families in Clay, Jackson, Jefferson, St. Charles, and St. Louis counties, as well as the cities of Cape Girardeau, Columbia, Jefferson City, Joplin, St. Joseph, and St. Louis.
The goal of public education in Missouri today and in the years to come should be to allow all parents to choose which schools their children attend, require every school to compete for every student who walks through its doors, and make sure every child has the opportunity to attend a quality school that best fits their unique needs and circumstances. There has not been a time when providing these opportunities has been more urgent and more needed than right now.
The following documents provide more information about education choice.
Fiscal Effects of School Choice
This EdChoice analysis of 40 private educational choice programs in 19 states plus D.C. summarizes the facts and evidence on the fiscal effects of educational choice programs across the United States and finds they have provided up to $28.3 billion in net fiscal savings to state and local taxpayers through Fiscal Year 2018. The programs in the analysis include three education savings accounts programs (ESAs), 19 school voucher programs, and 18 tax-credit scholarship programs.
The 123s of School Choice (2023 Edition)
This report from EdChoice is an in-depth review of the available research on private school choice programs in America. Areas of study include: private school choice program participant test scores, program participant attainment, parent satisfaction, public school students’ test scores, civic values and practices, racial/ethnic integration and fiscal effects.
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.
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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