Voucher School Programs

The paradox of education is precisely this—that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. --James Baldwin (1924-1987)

Why School Vouchers?

The notion of providing parents with a universal voucher to attend the private school of their choice has its roots in the free market economic theory first promoted by Milton Friedman and the Chicago School in the 1950s. The very act of parents making a choice drives competition in the marketplace which in turn grows the market share and profits resulting in a better product (education). Supporters assert that vouchers provide a quick way out of struggling schools for low-income students.

A voucher is a publicly-funded K-12 scholarship to be used by parents without restriction toward tuition at the school of their choice. Vouchers are not intended to cover the entire cost of private tuition. It is expected that if parents make that "choice" they will pay the balance owed to the private school.

No one wants children to stagnate in under-performing schools, whether they are public or private. It's ironic that many Florida parents who use the Corporate Tax Credit Voucher, to leave their failing D or F schools, are not aware that private school they choose is not any better than the public school they are leaving.

Florida and School Vouchers

In 1999, former Governor Jeb Bush succeeded in making Florida the first state in the nation to adopt a statewide universal voucher program. Controversial from the start, Bush's voucher system transferred taxpayer dollars meant for traditional public schools into the coffers of private, often expensive religious schools.

After protracted court proceedings, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the Florida Opportunity Scholarship Program, a universal voucher program, violated Article IX, section 1 of the Florida Constitution: "Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, safe, secure and high-quality system of free public schools. --source

Disappointment over the court's ruling was so profound that it inspired Governor Bush's attorney, Clark Neily , of the Institute for Justice to write "The Florida Supreme Court v. School Choice - A "Uniformly" Horrid Decision" to express his disappointment. The mission of Neily and the non-profit Institute for Justice is to litigate four core areas: economic liberty, property rights, free speech and school choice. --source

Following this bitter defeat, Governor Bush and the Florida Legislature created two other voucher programs. Both programs have been the subject of fraud and scandal as neither is accredited, regulated or accountable for performance or standards imposed on traditional public schools.

Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Voucher - operates much like the Opportunity Scholarship Program did with the important distinction of diverting corporate taxes into a private entity called a Scholarship Funding Organization. There are four of these in Florida: Step Up For Students, The Carrie Meek Foundation, Lightbearers, Inc. and Educate Today.

Paying the Scholarship Funding Organization allows corporations to bypass state coffers and divert funds to remain "private." During 2009-10, scholarships of $106 M were awarded to 28,927 students enrolled in 1,033 private schools. In 2010-11 scholarships topped the $140 M cap set by the legislature.

After the 2011 Legislative session, Governor Scott signed HB 965 into law eliminating the 75% cap on the amount that may be contributed in lieu of paying corporate taxes directly to the state. The credits apply to corporate income taxes, insurance premium taxes, severance taxes on oil and gas production, self-accrued sales tax liabilities of direct pay permit holders and taxes on beer, wine and alcoholic beverages.

Governor Scott also signed HB 1331, Expanded School Choice options. This law expands the definition of a failing school so that more students will be eligible for the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which is why the caps had to be lifted by HB 965. The law changes the definition of failing to a school that receives a "D" or and "F", in the prior year instead of receiving two "F"s in a four year period.

John McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program is Florida's second voucher plan. As of 2009-10, $138.7M had been paid to scholarship recipients in amounts ranging from $4,746 to $19,133, with the average amount being $7,144. The program serviced 20,926 students in 959 private schools.

The McKay Vouchers were significantly expanded when the 2011 Legislature passed HB 1329 which will now include students who have been issued a 504 Accommodation Plan under the American Disabilities Act. The amount of scholarship paid to private schools will equal the amount formerly paid to the district for that student under the Florida Education Finance Program (FEFP).

Are Vouchers Better?

Voucher advocates are unfazed. They no longer claim that vouchers will close the achievement gap or produce miraculous academic gains for poor and minority students. Instead, they now say that choice will increase parental involvement or that choice is a good in itself or that choice will save money. That last argument is the one that really moves policymakers in these tough fiscal times.

Imagine that: voucher schools may not educate kids better, but they can do the job at half the cost. That's powerful, and it reveals what matters most these days: not improving education, not encouraging creativity and innovation, but cutting costs.

Source: Diane Ravitch, Vouchers Make A Comeback, But Why?. Bridging Differences, EdWeek, April 12, 2011, http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/Bridging-Differences/2011/04/vouchers_make_a_comeback_but_w.html

I'm confident that it's highly unlikely that we're going to see huge differential positive test score gains from this program" or negative results either, he said after the report was released Monday. "My hunch is, when all is said and done … it's going to be a wash in terms of test scores.

-- Source: David Figlio, School Vouchers Study Finds Little Difference Between Public Schools, St. Petersburg Times; June 30, 2009

The short answer is no. Students who use corporate tax dollars to attend private schools that lack accreditation, accountability and standards do not out-perform their counterparts in traditional public schools.

The state of Florida commissioned David Figlio, a Faculty Fellow at the Institute of Policy Research, Northwestern University to do a series of 4 studies to determine whether students perform better after leaving their "F" traditional public school to participate in Florida's Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship program.

Figlio's third study, Evaluation of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program Participation, Compliance, Test Scores and Parental Satisfaction in 2008-09, reveals great difficulty in attributing any test score gains to vouchers. He began by comparing test scores of students in the voucher program, which served 23,259 students last year, to eligible public school students who opted not to participate.

Since private schools are not required to do any specific testing and the FCAT is not norm referenced, finding common ground was not easy. Any test that the voucher students might take, like the Stanford is norm-referenced. By choosing not to impose any standards on private schools, Florida legislators significantly hampered Figlio's ability to understand the academic performance of the voucher students.

Although qualifying for free or reduced lunch is a key factor that makes a student eligible for a voucher, Figlio spends a great deal of time in the report trying to discern any economic differences that might exist between a free or reduced lunch voucher user and a non-participating student who attends a traditional public school as a free or reduced lunch recipient.

An overlay chart on page 26 of the report shows nearly identical testing results between voucher schools and traditional public schools among the lowest performing students. Figlio writes:

In summary, the regression discontinuity model suggests that there is no discernible difference between FTC Scholarship Program participants and nonparticipants in terms of reading test score gains, and there may be modest positive effects of participation for mathematics gains. These differences, however, are still small in magnitude, are within the range of potential errors in the concordance analysis, and are not statistically significant at conventional levels, so they should be not be interpreted as strongly favorable, only potentially suggestive.

Therefore, the best interpretation of the findings of no substantial difference between FTC Scholarship Program? participants and nonparticipants in the public schools is that students who have transferred to the private sector using a FTC Scholarship appear to be keeping pace with the gains observed in the public sector.

-- Source: David Figlio and Cassandra Hart, "Competitive Effects of Means-Tested School Vouchers," National Bureau of Economic Research working paper #16056, June 2010, http://www.nber.org/papers/w16056

What about choice?

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been diverted during the past decade away from Florida public schools in the belief that the private sector would accomplish what some admittedly poor performing traditional schools could not. Unfortunately, there are no significant gains for students attending these schools. Instead of properly tackling the problem within the system, the state of Florida and its politicians turned these struggling students and their future over to a deregulated, unproven experiment that plowed taxpayer millions into the real winners: private religious schools.

The best conclusion that Figlio was able to draw from his research was this: It does not matter whether private schools who accept vouchers are better than traditional public schools. What matters is that the parents got to make a choice.

As can be seen, parents of students participating in the program are highly satisfied, relative to other families. This is not causal evidence as there are many reasons why a family would choose to participate in the program or to select a private school, but it does provide some suggestive evidence about the perceptions of parents regarding their children's schools. These results are consistent with other survey data in Florida and elsewhere suggesting that parents tend to be very happy with the choices they made in voucher and scholarship programs.

We also investigate whether families with different backgrounds had different reactions to their children's schools in March of the 2008-09 school year. Specifically, we stratify families based on race and ethnicity (white, black and Hispanic) and based on the respondent's level of education (college graduate, some college or postsecondary education, or a high school degree or less.) In the figure below, we present the percentage of respondents of each type who rated their child's school as "excellent" or "good." As can be seen, participants across the considered dimensions rate their children's schools very highly. Minorities and less- educated households appear to be relatively unhappy with their children's schools when the children are not participating in the program. In summary, while readers should interpret these survey results cautiously, they do provide a fuller picture of the potential effects of participating in the FTC Scholarship Program for families that applied to participate. -- Source: Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program Participation, Compliance, Test Scores and Parental Satisfaction in 2008-09, pages 39-40.

In the final analysis, Figlio's work indicates that it does not matter whether the private schools who accept voucher money are better than traditional public schools. What mattered was that the parents made a choice to use their voucher money to send their student to a particular school. In addition, without the voucher only 5% of the students would have attended a private school and 80% of the schools chosen were religious in nature.

Are CTC Scholarship Vouchers Cheaper than Traditional Public Schools?

Voucher supporters, comfortable that private schools do not deliver greater learning gains or test scores than their traditional counterparts, claim that vouchers are cheaper and better for business. Are they?

In 2011, a voucher is worth $4,106 - 60% of the $6,843 averaged FTE allotted students attending traditional public school.

Since the Florida Constitution stipulates that the state must provide a high-quality public education, traditional public schools must:

  • Teach every student who walks in the door
  • Maintain class size requirements
  • Teachers and schools must be fully licensed and accredited
  • Provide services and special instruction to those in need,
  • Adhere to curriculum standards
  • Issue and teach to standardized tests
  • Offer libraries and technology for research and learning
  • Furnish play grounds and
  • Provide standardized PE equipment and playing fields
  • Provide safe transportation
  • Ensure safety, uniformity and efficiency
  • Must be free of charge
  • Must feed children who cannot pay for lunch
  • May not discriminate on the basis of religion, race or ideology

Florida private schools are:

  • Not regulated - caveat emptor - buyer beware
  • Not required to supply or do any of the above
  • Are free to discriminate and terminate students at will, even when taking corporate tax dollars

"The fact that we're keeping (pace) and we're spending 57 cents on the dollar is a good first step,'' said Doug Tuthill, president of Step Up For Students, the Tampa nonprofit group that oversees the voucher program. -- Source: School Vouchers Study Finds Little Difference Between Public Schools, St. Petersburg Times; June 30, 2009

Reality check: Private schools are not "spending less" they are required to do less.

This dedication to "cheaper" demonstrates a crucial lack of commitment to Florida's children. Perhaps a good "first step" might be applying standards and accountability measures to private schools who aspire to teach the neediest students. Penny pinching alone will never produce high-quality results.

FAQs Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Voucher Program

Source: noted FTC Expert and Education Historian, Sandra Parks

What are CTC Vouchers?

CTC vouchers are 1 of 3 nationally recognized categories. Florida's Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Voucher skirts the unconstitutionality problem (Bush v. Holmes) by allowing corporations to donate some or all of the taxes owed through corporate income taxes, insurance premium taxes, severance taxes on oil and gas production, self-accrued sales tax liabilities of direct pay permit holders and taxes on beer, wine and alcoholic beverages directly to one of the four Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFOs), who then manage and award the vouchers.

Each SFO keeps 5% of the overall gross funding they collect as their fee. (5% of 140M) The largest SFO is Step Up For Students followed by The Carrie Meek Foundation, Lightbearers, Inc, and Educate Today.

How much money is a CTC Voucher worth?

Students receive 60% of their un-weighted Full-Time Enrollment amount. For 2010-11 the un-weighted FTE is $6,843 and 60% is $4,106 - the amount of the voucher. This amount will rise 4 percentage points until it reaches 80% of FTE any year that the donation cap is reached.

The 2011-2012 estimated voucher amount is $4,380. Since the $140,000,000 cap this year was reached, it will be raised by 25% for the next year ($175,000,000 for 2011-2012).

What is the source of revenue for CTC Vouchers?

Corporations are encouraged to divert corporate taxes into one of four private entities called Scholarship Funding Organizations bypassing state coffers, allowing these funds to remain "private." This is an apparent device to avoid any accusation of direct funding of private religious schools with public tax dollars.

Corporations can get the credit for 100% of their direct pay sales taxes. (Ex. Walgreens). HB 965 increased both corporate income (ATT) and insurance premium (United Health Care) to 100%. For alcoholic beverage taxpayers (Budweiser), the limit is 90%, and for oil and gas severance payers, the limit is 50%. It is unclear whether companies may claim this contribution as a charitable deduction for federal tax purposes.

Who is responsible for oversight?

Department of State- Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFO)are registered as a non-profit

Department of Education- Adopts the rules necessary to determine SFO eligibility and identifies the eligibility of students for participation in the program. The DOE annually verifies the eligibility of SFO's, private schools, and expenditures. Private schools receiving vouchers have NO requirements for accreditation, curriculum, teacher certification, or facilities. Individual achievement test results are reported to an out-of-state economist to compare voucher student achievement with their comparable SES public school students; no test results for schools receiving vouchers or "grading of schools" is gathered or reported. In addition, these schools are exempt from class size.

Department of Revenue- adopts rules to administer the program, including, establishing application forms and procedures; and governs the allocation of tax credits and carry forward credits for the program.

Department of Agriculture- SFO submits short charitable donation report. (not verification of 501.c3 status by the IRS)

Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco (DABT)- of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

What do Scholarship Funding Organizations Do?

The primary role of an SFO is to award voucher checks, which require the signatures of parents/guardians and authorized private school administrators.

SFO's expend for annual or partial-year scholarships an amount equal to or greater than 75% of the net eligible contributions remaining after administrative expenses; SFO's may use 3% of eligible contributions for administration costs.

Who is eligible for a CTC Voucher?

Any student who qualifies for free or reduced-price school lunches under the National School Lunch Act or is on the direct certification list and was as counted as a full- time student during the previous state fiscal year; or received a CTC voucher during the previous school year; or is eligible to enter kindergarten or first grade; or is currently or in the previous fiscal year was placed in foster care.

Figlio report says students come primarily from low-performing schools; TU article says majority come from A or B schools.

Which Schools Receive CTC Vouchers?

More than 80% are religious schools and are both non-profit and for-profit.

There is no public information posted on the Florida Department of Education Schools Choice website. At this time, the public is unable to know:

  • Who actually receives CTC Vouchers
  • How many students, or what percentage of students at a given schools receive CTC vouchers.

Step Up for students reports that CTC voucher students average 18% of the total enrollment of their private schools.

Private schools receiving diverted tax dollars from CTC Vouchers do not have to meet any standards or accountability regarding:

  • curriculum
  • teacher certification
  • accreditation
  • public reporting of student test results

Since 80% of the private schools receiving CTC Voucher money are religious, curricula and textbooks created for religious schools

What is the Academic Achievement of Students Who Receive CTC Voucher money?

Three evaluations, which were statutorily contracted by the state of Florida have been done. The latest, Evaluation of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program Participation, Compliance, Test Scores and Parental Satisfaction in 2008-09; was done by David Figlio, a former UF economics professor who is currently a Faculty Fellow, Institute of Policy Research, Northwestern University, Illinois. --source

There has been no statistical review of Figlio's findings either by FDOE or testing specialists at state universities.

There is no significant difference in achievement level or gains reported.

Students' scores from 8 different achievement tests (normed- referenced tests) used in voucher schools are compared with FCAT scores (criterion- referenced tests) for public school students. Tests measure different content and processes with different reporting statistics.

No public reporting of CTC school scores so that DOE, local school boards, parents, or the public may evaluate the quality of education offered by private schools receiving CTC Voucher dollars.

What Is The Cost to Taxpayers?

By 2008, Florida lost $1.17 billion in public funds or diverted public funds to the three voucher categories paying funds to primarily private religious schools

Since 2001, more than $635 Million has been diverted to the CTC Scholarship Voucher program

In 2010, $140 million in tax revenue was diverted from the state general fund making it unavailable for:

  • Libraries
  • Public health
  • WIC nutrition program
  • Law enforcement
  • Environmental conservation and protection
  • Historic preservation
  • Health and consumer protection
  • Job-creating construction programs
  • PUBLIC EDUCATION including the class-size amendment

Result:

Florida saved about $70 Million paying private schools to teach 32,910 children
Hard-working Property taxpayers were forced to make up the funding lost to districts
Funneling $70 Million to private religious schools cost Florida's traditional public schools $210 Million.

Total taxpayer dollars paid to fund private religious schools in all three voucher categories from probram inception through 2010:

  • CTC $500,828,730
  • Mckay $896,666,143
  • Opportunity* $11,222,115
  • Total $1,408,716,988 BILLION

* from 1999 - 2006

Do Vouchers Impact the Image of Public Education?

Traditional public schools, branded with the scarlet letter D or F, face insurmountable hurdles. Florida teachers have been excoriated by politicians, they've used student test scores are being used to punish everyone, districts are facing historic billion-dollar funding cuts, unfunded mandates and could face retribution for speaking out.

There has been a push for broad, unproven, un-piloted and largely unfunded reforms, turning districts into test kitchens. There is a growing acceptance that private education as a right and public education is not worth funding.

Private schools are not required to meet the standards imposed on traditional public schools. The actions of the Florida legislature reveals that by underfunding public education through repeated cuts, the Florida legislature ignores many children's rights issues such as adequate nutrition, health care, health insurance, healthy environmental conditions, or to an adequately funded, quality education K-12 and post-secondary, but it funds private education in religious schools.

Do Florida Taxpayers Have Any Remedies?

Constitutional amendment to eliminate public funding of private schools.

Require that any school receiving CTC vouchers administer the FCAT and that scores must be reported in the press, to the DOE and local school district.

Require that teachers administering FCAT in private schools must be trained and its administration monitored by random selection by DOE.

Require that any private school receiving D or F grade based on FCAT may not receive funds for three years until student scores are raised to C.

Require that any school receiving CTC vouchers must be accredited by one of Florida's recognized accreditation agencies.

Require than no more than 50% of student enrollment in any private school may receive vouchers

Require that evaluation comparing student performance of students receiving vouchers and the comparable peers in public schools must be done by Florida specialists in education testing.

Create an SFO for public education so that companies may donate to improve public schools directly, providing funding for additional reading and mathematics teachers, after-school and summer school programs in low- performing schools.

Avoid purchases from companies that pay their taxes into Scholarship Funding Organizations.

Case Study: What Corporate Tax Vouchers Cost St. Johns County

By Sandra Parks, noted FTC Expert and Education Historian

Since the inception of the Corporate Tax Credit program in 2002, over $500 million of corporate taxes have been diverted to private schools. During the 2010-2011 school year up to $140,000,000 in public money will be paid to private schools to educate 32,320 students, 80 % of which attend religious schools.

By paying $4,106 per student to send students to private schools, the state of Florida does not pay the $6,897 average it would cost to educate them in public schools. However, savings at the state level means significant losses to local school districts.

Currently 144 students in St. Johns County receive vouchers to attend private schools. Five out of six local private schools that receive vouchers are Christian schools; only three CTC schools are accredited.

According to Step Up for Children, the organization that administers vouchers, only 5% of these students would attend private school without CTC funding. Using that estimate 137 students of these students would be attending St. Johns County schools, generating $944,889 in per student funding from the state. Educating those students distributed across grade levels among our elementary and secondary schools would not require additional teachers or facilities. However, their state-supported attendance in private schools means a loss of almost one million dollars to St. John County Schools.

St. Johns County students using vouchers increased from 111 last year to 144 this year. This number can be expected to increase annually as the value of the vouchers increases. Last spring the legislature authorized automatic increases in the value of vouchers, until they equal 80% of the state's per student funding to public schools.

At a public meeting last spring Reverend Rawls indicated that the new St. Paul AME school will be funded by "corporate donations," which he clarified to mean vouchers. In effect the state legislatureis substantially financing the development of church-related schools.

Statewide the loss of state funding to local school districts is staggering! According to Step Up for Children, 30,704 students would be in public schools if they did not receive vouchers.

In 2011, Florida's local school districts have lost an estimated $211,765,488 in potential state funding.

Governor Rick Scott and the Florida legislature significantly expanded the CTC Vouchers. Voters must decide how far state government should go to privatize public education.

Breakdown of Loss: Northeast Florida

(chart for northeast Florida here…the entire state to go here once we get the figures)

SUMMARY OF CTC STUDENTS, CTC SCHOOLS, CTC FUNDING, AND FTE LOSS TO SCHOOL DISTRICTS IN NORTHEAST FLORIDA FOR 2010/2011 (PDF ATTACHED)

Must Reads:

http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/decisions/2006/sc04-2323.pdf

Legislature Expands Risky Experiment of Education Privatization As Traditional Public Schools Suffer, Florida Center For Fiscal and Economic Policy, August 2011

NSBA Florida Voucher Media Coverage

Florida Vouchers Invite Entrepreneural Chicanery, S.V. Date, Kimberly Miller, January 8, 2011

Vouching for Vouchers, Julie Delegal, January 3, 2011

Mckay Vouchers PDF, Florida Department of Education, School Choice

Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program Statistics PDF, Florida Department of Education, School Choice

School Vouchers Study Finds Little Difference Between Public Schools, Private Schools, Matus, Ron; St. Petersburg Times; June 30, 2009

The Florida Supreme Court v. School Choice - A "Uniformly" Horrid Decision, Neily, Clark, FORMAT, June 1, 2006

Evaluation of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program Participation, Compliance, Test Scores and Parental Satisfaction in 2008-09; Figlio, David, Faculty Fellow, Institute of Policy Research, Northwestern University

Evaluation of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program Participation, Compliance, Test Scores and Parental Satisfaction in 2009-10, August 2011; Figlio, David, Faculty Fellow, Institute of Policy Research, Northwestern University

Legislature Expands Risky Experiment of Education Privatization As Traditional Public Schools Suffer, Florida Center For Fiscal and Economic Policy, August 2011

As Public Schools Face Cuts, Vouchers May Get Big Boost/Critics: Lack of Private School Accountability Makes Program Unfair, Weber, Dave, Orlando Sentinel, March 3, 2010