How to Promote School Choice without Busting the State Budget

Middle income families enjoy the benefit of school choice — they can afford to move to better school districts. Most lower income families don’t have that option.

One way to extend school choice to poor families is to create educational tax credits encouraging donations to not-for-profit groups that would fund scholarships, suggests Chris Braunlich, a vice president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy and a regular contributor to Bacon’s Rebellion. The usual objection to tuition tax credits is that they would constitute a drain on the state treasury, but Braunlich offers a clever way around that.

In a new research paper, “Better Education for All Children,” Braunlich proposes limiting the size of the scholarships to the amount of state aid allocated to the student’s school district. That way, what the state loses in tax credits it recoups through a reduction in state aid to local education.

Scholarships limited by the size of state aid would not be terribly large, Braunlich concedes, ranging from $1,204 in Fairfax City to $5,870 in Lee County. Because such sums normally would cover only a fraction of private school tuitions, I cannot see them comprising a meaningful school-choice option by themselves. However, if private schools could supplement these scholarships with tuition breaks — as many already do for poor students — the number of students affected could be substantial.

Concludes Braunlich: “The impact on the state budget would be a ‘wash,’ neither having more or less money for educational needs. Most localities would still have the funding they need to educate their students and at-risk children would have an alternative for a better education.”

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  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    My understanding is that the state funds on a documented/verified number of attending students so the locality does not get funding for kids that get home schooled or attend private school anyhow…

    … and so one could argue that the state owes that money to the parents of the home/private schooled kids anyhow .. but this is back to the idea of vouchers… because the state presumably already uses that money not sent locally to go back into the total education funding pot anyhow – for SOQs, etc….

    tax money for schools belongs to the public schools – not people who don’t support public schools.

    It’s not a voluntary arrangement – for those without kids, those whose kids have grown up or those who want to teach their kids something other than what public schools teach.

    Everyone owes their share to support public schools.

    I DO support some kind of a more/better competitive education marketplace to see if we can get spur more cost-effective strategies.

    but there are two problems with home/private schooling paid for by rebating public funds.

    1. – the primary problem is that we do not hold home/private schooling to the same SOL/NCLB standards and that if we end up with economically-parentally disadvantaged kids – who lack a basic education.

    (Recent studies have shown that private schools don’t do any better job with these kids than public schools and some do worse).

    2. – many folks who home/private school want their kids to RETURN to public high school so they can benefit from the many diverse (and expensive) extra programs and social benefits… not to mention being able to “pad” their post school resume with those “plus” things that colleges and employers look for in applications.

    But who pays for these kids if when they return – they do not pass SOL/NCLB testing? Do we then ask for the money back?

    so the ONLY way this can work is in kids that are home/private schooled need to pass the same exact SOLs (and per school NCLB) standards that public school kids do.

    I think it is a farce to claim that private schooling is justifiable without holding them to the same standards.

    That’s not a level playing field at all.. it’s totally bogus…

    so the deal. if the kid fails the SOLs, you don’t get the money – no exceptions.

    If the private school does not meet – as a school the same NCLB standards for sub-groups – they lose their certification for receiving tax money.

    I think as a society, we continue to be confused as the what the original intent of public education was all about – and why it justified taxing all citizens to support it.

    Some continue to view schools as taxpayer-funded institutions where we send kids to get the kind of education – values and academic that WE (parents) want them to have – instead of the educations that they need to become productive taxpaying citizens…

    That’s the problem we have right now – that some parents consider schools as academic amenities for their own kids and they are perfectly willing to throw the economically/parentally disadvantaged kids under the bus – whether it be .. letting them fail and dropping out of public school and let their parents waste tax dollars sending them to private schools that also fail at that task.

    Public education belongs to everyone; The basic intent of public education from the very beginning when first instituted was to produce better educated adults that would enable them to lead productive lives working for a living instead of being on the dole.

    The folks who want to co-opt it for other purposes now days, I feel are misguided and truly undermine the core values and purposes of “public” – public education.

    If we want to start giving “rebates” to parents who want to educate their kids “their” way then what do we say to the folks who don’t have kids or whose kids are grown up in terms of how their money is used.

    Do we end up with a system where if you are a parent you can essentially decide that you don’t owe your share of “opt out” of your share of taxes for public education?

    Nope -you owe your share – just like you owe taxes for other services.

    If you want “more”/”different” education for your child – that is fine – but that is an additional cost to you; it does not excuse your equitable share of public education costs -kid or no kid.

    It’s not about YOUR kid -it’s about ALL Kids.

    so the essential deal for home/private schooling is this:

    no standards – no money

    and no wiggling around trying to cast it as something else other than evasion of one’s just share of funding public education.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Hi, Jim. Sorry to interrupt the conversation here but just wanted to let you know that the clips I sent to you this morning bounced back. I tried resending and they bounced again. Your e-mail isn’t working. If you have another e-mail address you’d like me to send them to, let me know.

    Becky Dale

  3. James Young Avatar
    James Young

    I disagree, Jim. Vouchers or tuition tax credits would be a net POSITIVE for state a local budgets. As I explained here two years ago ( a voucher or tax credit for one-half of the per-pupil expenditures for a locality’s government schools would provide a substantial benefit, and free up an equal amount for expenditures in the government schools. And for many private Christian schools, it would cover most or all of the costs of attending. By way of example, the costs of my two sons’ tuition is something less than the expenditures for a single student in the Prince William County government schools.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I realize that I get a bit spun-up on this subject so I’ll try to tone it down…a bit..

    Teaching at-risk, disadvantaged kids, especially one’s whose parents are either unable or unwilling to provide appropriate parental support….

    .. is VERY difficult (but NOT impossible) work that does require a specialized professional…who has specific knowledge and experience – and we won’t get such a professional by paying entry level wages…..

    our public school system, as currently operated in many localities – actually assigns the most inexperienced .. direct from college entry-level teachers to teach at-risk kids….

    .. and, at the same time, assigns the most capable teachers to teach kids who are not at risk – sometimes as a perk for being a good teacher – to get a “good” class.

    I’m not in favor of having dumbed-down, stripped down curriculums that bore advanced kids to tears….

    that’s wrong also….

    but our public schools are heavily influenced in terms of their programs and resources by well-off parents of kids who are, by definition, not at risk.

    But, as a society, we must recognize that at-risk kids are innocent human beings that deserve a chance at life and an education is for many.. their first and last chance to escape their parents plight …

    If we want to have programs that allow sending kids to non-public schools on taxpayer dollars…

    that “works” for at-risk kids, then those schools should be

    * – certified in terms of the experience and knowledge professionals with demonstrated success at dealing with at-risk kids.

    * – at the School level – certified in their results – that demonstrate that they can and do succeed at teaching at-risk kids as a group.

    If we are going to advocate the use of tax dollars to support non-public schools without these specific provisions for at-risk kids…

    then I question what we are trying to achieve with such programs…

    and whether or not.. they really have anything at all to do with offering true alternatives to at-risk kids.

    Gov Kaine – and folks in his administration are zeroed in on this concept.. that’s why they’re willing to shift resources from general revenues for public schools in general – to early-intervention at-risk programs.

    What I think I hear sometimes – but sometimes couched in careful language is that the problem we have is too big for us to solve… and we really are wasting resources trying to rescue kids that cannot be rescued.

    it might be true.. but I’m one that won’t accept it until we have tried harder… and it’s not a black/white proposition.. it’s about numbers.

    We cannot afford to have 25% of our kids not graduate from school.

    If we are doing something wrong, we need to fix it.. not walk away from it.

  5. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    I tend to agree with Larry.

    The path to better schools is finding ways to Fuadamentally Change the education process and have great schools in every Cluster (Day Care, Pre and 1 and 2), Neighborhood, (3 to 8) Village (9 to 12) and Community (12 to elder).

    Paying anyone to shop for schools further erodes social fabric and disaggregates society.


  6. James Young Avatar
    James Young

    Larry “question[s] what we are trying to achieve with such programs.” Uh, freedom, Larry. You might remember it. It’s what we had before the government/educrat monopoly in education. What we are trying to achieve is allowing ALL parents to have the same choice that the wealthy have. The only real objection to school choice is not a lack of educational excellence, or even that “at-risk” children would not be served, since the market will take care of them. The real objection is the fact that the government would be surrendering its control of education.

    And of course, your notion that you “won’t accept [the proposition that “the problem we have is too big for us to solve… and we really are wasting resources trying to rescue kids that cannot be rescued”] until we have tried harder sounds suspiciously like “Throw more money at it.” The problem is that it’s been tried — in D.C.; in NYC; in California — and all we’ve gotten as a result is mediocrity.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross


    what kind of “freedom” did kids have in the United States BEFORE we had public schools?

    If you were a kid in the US before public schools – and your parents were not rich.. what happened to you?

    re: mediocrity

    that’s our excuse….de jure

    our BEST educated kids – you know the 75% that DO graduate.. many cannot pass basic proficiency tests for reading and writing.

    What is their excuse?

    oh.. it’s the at-risk kids that keep them and their parents for pursuing a more rigorous curriculum?

    No.. we don’t hear this at all.. what we hear is that concentrating on reading and writing is “stifling” and “uncreative” and “mediocre” …

    Our own businesses.. people like Bill Gates say that our kids know. the ones with good grades .. college graduates with “good” grades are ill equipped in basic reading and writing.

    Cannot read and comprehend technical manuals.. much less write them.

    and this has virtually nothing to do with at-risk kids..

    we rail against teaching to the test.. pity.. thats what the make those poor Fin kids do.. right?

    about the best we have in the US is Massachusetts whose kids score pretty high (across the board by the way) on NAEP Proficiency standards (similar to results of other industrialized countries) but Massachusetts spends 11,642 per kid compared to Virginia’s 8,886.

    Massachusetts has about the same number of subsidized lunch kids as Virginia does but they knock our socks off on proficiency scores.

    but more money won’t help Virginia’s schools do better unless they adopt the same rigorous and uncompromising curriculum that Massachusetts and other industrialized countries have.

    In my view.. “mediocrity” has virtually nothing to do with teaching at-risk kids and everything to do with flabby standards in general…

  8. Anonymous Avatar

    Chris Saxman has carried this legislator for several years. This year is was HB 1164. Unfortunately, he had it watered down so much its was useless. It included amendments that required “fully funding of the SOQs” and teacher salarys at the “national average” before the law would go into effect. Since niether of those things wille ever happen, the bill was a shell.

    It died, however, in Senate Finance.

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