States offer various programs designed to give families more choices in education, ranging from charter public schools to tax breaks that encourage contributions for private school scholarships. But only a few states sponsor and fully finance vouchers that cover private school tuition.
Florida students who attend public schools that receive failing grades from the state for two out of four years have been eligible for vouchers under a program enacted in 1999. The Opportunity Scholarships, worth about $4,350, have allowed students to attend a better-performing public or private schools, including religious schools. The Florida Supreme Court overturned the program Jan. 5. Florida also provides vouchers to about 10,000 students with disabilities to attend private and public schools that meet their needs; that program was not covered by the ruling.
Ohio adopted its Cleveland voucher program in 1995. The scholarships pay either 75 percent or 90 percent of private school tuition, depending on the family’s financial status, up to $2,250. More than 4,000 students are part of the program. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the program, which includes religious schools, does not violate the U.S. Constitution. The program will expand to as many as 14,000 students in low-performing schools statewide in the 2006-07 school year.
Utah created a voucher program in 2005—the Carson Smith Special Needs Scholar-ships—that provides parents of children with disabilities up to $5,700 a year to send their children to secular or religious private schools. The vouchers are available to any student who has an individualized education program, which is required under the main federal law in special education, making about 54,000 students eligible. The took effect this school year.
Wisconsin began the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program in 1990. It now pays up to $6,000 per participating student from the Milwaukee public schools to attend secular and religious private schools, as well as charter or other public schools. The program is available to 16,500 students. The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the program in 1998. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal of that decision later that year.
SOURCES: Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation and Education Week.