Research & Commentary: School Voucher Bill Would Be a Great First Step Toward Private School Choice in Nebraska

Published January 20, 2017

A bill has been introduced in the Nebraska Legislature that would establish the Parental Choice Scholarship Program. If passed, the program would provide children attending public schools “at the lowest performance level established by the State Board of Education” with a voucher to help pay for tuition, fees, textbooks, and uniforms at a private school.

Beginning with the 2018–19 school year, the voucher would pay 75 percent of “the anticipated revenue per student” for that school fiscal year, or the cost of tuition and fees at that private school, whichever is less. The remaining 25 percent of per-pupil revenue would go toward lowering property taxes in that student’s school district. The average cost of a private elementary school, according to a survey of Nebraska private schools, was $2,489 in 2014–15; the average high school cost $5,581. The average statewide per-pupil cost at Nebraska public schools was $11,901 in 2015–16.

Only 46 percent of Nebraska 4th graders and 38 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 40 percent of 4th and 36 percent of 8th graders tested proficient in reading. These results show Nebraska’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.

Nebraska’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 the Cornhusker State 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 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.”

“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.”

Currently, private school choice in Nebraska is literally nonexistent. Providing vouchers for students stuck in low-performing schools would be a great first step forward for the Cornhusker State. The overwhelming majority of the available empirical evidence makes it clear educational choice offers families equal access to high-quality schools that meet students’ widely diverse needs and desires – and does so at a lower cost. Research also shows school choice programs also benefit traditional public school students. 

Allowing all students in Nebraska to receive vouchers would go even further toward remedying Nebraska’s lackluster record of failing to educate its children. 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 school vouchers and education choice.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
This paper by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice 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. 

Exploring Nebraska’s Private Education Sector
Exploring Nebraska’s Private School Sector is the fifth installment in EdChoice’s School Survey Series. This report presents an examination of private schools in Nebraska, including available seats, tuition costs, and enrollment of students with special needs. The report also surveys school leaders’ opinions and concerns surrounding various types of educational choice programs.

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.

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.”

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.


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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