Wyoming is considering establishing the state’s first two private education choice programs.
The first proposal would set up an education savings account (ESA) program, funded via tax credits, which would allow qualifying families to pay for tuition and fees at private schools. Under the proposed program, nonprofit organizations, after receiving approval from the state, would be eligible to grant scholarships to Wyoming students. Individuals and businesses would then donate to these nonprofits and receive a tax credit equal to as much as 100 percent of the amount of their contribution, “provided that the total amount of credits shall not exceed the amount actually distributed to students.”
All Wyoming students would be eligible for the ESA, with preference for awards given to students whose families have household incomes under $80,000. Each ESA would have a maximum value of $6,000.
The second proposal would establish a tax-credit scholarship program. This program would work similarly to the tax-credit funded ESA bill, but it would limit total donations to $3 million for each fiscal year. All Wyoming students would be eligible under this proposal as well, with preference given to students with families earning less than 75 percent of the median household income in their county, students “attending schools in school districts which are determined to have capacity concerns,” and students attending schools that the state says are “not meeting expectations.” The maximum value of each scholarship would be no more than one-third of the statewide average per-student funding amount received by school districts.
Only 48 percent of Wyoming 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 41 percent of 4th graders 36 percent of and 8th graders tested proficient in reading. These results show Wyoming’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.
Wyoming’s troubling 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 Wyoming 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.
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.” The overwhelming majority of the available empirical evidence 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.
Currently, private school choice in Wyoming is literally nonexistent. Enacting these programs would put the Equality State at the forefront of the education choice movement and would give all Wyoming families a greater opportunity to meet each child’s unique education needs. 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 ESAs, tax-credit scholarships, and school 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.
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.
Research & Commentary: Indiana School Choice Parental Satisfaction Should Lead to More School Choice
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.
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 Tax-Credit Scholarship Audit: Do Publicly Funded Private School Choice Programs Save Money?
In this study, 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. This 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 examines 10 tax-credit scholarship programs operating in seven states between 1997 and 2014, which serve 93 percent of all students participating in tax-credit scholarship programs nationwide.
Recalibrating Accountability: Education Savings Accounts as Vehicles of Choice and Innovation
This Special Report from The Heritage Foundation and the Texas Public Policy Foundation explores how education savings accounts expand educational opportunities and hold education providers directly accountable to parents. The report also identifies several common types of regulations that can undermine the effectiveness of the program and how they can be avoided.
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.
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 Nathan Makla, Heartland’s state government relations manager, at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.