TOUGH TIMES FOR THE PRIVATIZERS:
Research Shows Poor Outcomes and Potential for Abuse in Voucher Programs
The leadership of the Texas Senate continues to seek support for statewide voucher programs in the form of “education savings accounts” (ESAs) and private school tax credits. Meanwhile, a series of recent articles on similar programs in other states shows “dismal” academic outcomes and a financial “shell-game” that calls the financial accountability of these programs into serious question.
Kevin Carey of the New America Foundation captured this research and reporting in an incisive new series of articles, putting privatizers on their heels. What impact this evidence will have on the debate over statewide vouchers in Texas remains to be seen, but recent evidence on statewide voucher programs exposes considerable concerns over impacts on academic performance and weak financial accountability.
“[R]ecent evidence on statewide voucher programs exposes considerable concerns over impacts on academic performance and weak financial accountability.”
Statewide Voucher Programs Producing Negative Impacts on Student Achievement
In the first piece, Carey summarizes a spate of recent studies of statewide voucher programs in Indiana, Louisiana and Ohio that look very similar to what is proposed in Texas:
- The Indiana study found “significant losses of achievement” in mathematics and “no improvement in reading.”
- A study of a statewide voucher program in Louisiana found “large negative results in both reading and math.”
- A third study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and funded by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, of Ohio’s statewide voucher program found, “[s]tudents who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools…”
As Carey observes:
“This is very unusual. When people try to improve education, sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail. The successes usually register as modest improvements, while the failures generally have no effect at all. It’s rare to see efforts to improve test scores having the opposite result.”
While Carey reports that voucher supporters suggested many private schools did not participate in the Louisiana program and those that did were perhaps of poorer quality and hungry for revenue, he comments: “But this is just another way of saying that exposing young children to the vagaries of private-sector competition is inherently risky. The free market often does a terrible job of providing basic services to the poor…” All of which calls into question voucher supporters’ claims that the true beneficiaries of vouchers will be low-income children.
Carey contrasts the positive performance of public charter programs in producing positive impacts on test scores with the key difference being “the best charters tend to be nonprofit public schools, open to all and accountable to the authorities.” As Carey concludes, “[t]he less ‘private’ that school choice programs are, the better they seem to work.”
“The less ‘private’ that school choice programs are, the better they seem to work.”
Tax Credit Vouchers Highlight Weak Financial Accountability
Carey’s next piece is a case study in what can go wrong with tax credit vouchers. Carey documents how an Arizona legislator who has been a key legislative supporter of that state’s tax credit voucher program has also profited handsomely from the program.
As Carey notes, the key point is not this individual instance of self-enrichment, “[b]ut the fact that an influential politician can both promote and profit from tax credit vouchers shows what can happen when public funding for education is largely removed from public hands.”
Carey also reveals the spin and legislative machinations that make tax credit vouchers a preferred vehicle of choice for advocates of education privatization. He explains how proponents of these schemes:
- Spin tax credits as a tax cut rather than government spending;
- Use tax credit vouchers to evade state constitutional restrictions; and
- Direct millions to private schools while imposing few, if any, requirements on the schools that receive them resulting in public financing of approaches to education that “diverge from generally accepted academic standards.”
When all is said and done, “the shell-game process of moving money from the public treasury to a donor to a nonprofit to a family to a private school makes it very difficult to account for how well those public dollars are ultimately spent.”
“[T]he shell-game process of moving money from the public treasury to a donor to a nonprofit to a family to a private school makes it very difficult to account for how well those public dollars are ultimately spent.”
As with legislation proposed in the Texas Senate in SB 3 and SB 542, Arizona’s tax credit voucher statute allows the private third-party organization administering the voucher program to retain a whopping 10 percent of the “donations” as overhead. As Carey points out, this “means that millions of dollars meant to pay for education are being diverted to pay for, at best, pure bureaucracy.”
Given the similarities between many aspects of the voucher legislation being proposed here in Texas and the academic and accountability concerns so well documented in these articles, Texans should be both concerned and appreciative of Mr. Carey for bringing these issues to the forefront of the national conversation.
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VOUCHERS ARE NOT THE SOLUTION
Education Savings accounts and tax credit scholarships are the same ol’ voucher, also known as government subsidies for private schools with no transparency, accountability, or proven results.