School vouchers have saved states $1.7 billion over the past 20 years, however it’s unclear what happens to those savings, according to a report out today from the Indianapolis-based Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
The study focused on the oldest ten voucher programs in the country and applied a simple formula: if the average voucher amount is less than the average per-pupil education cost in public schools, savings are realized. Here’s a breakdown:
Often those savings are shared between the state and the public schools, the report found, but how that money is spent is not transparent.
“The benefit of school vouchers is that they create great savings, but we don’t always know what happens to the money,” Friedman Foundation CEO and President Robert Enlow said in a statement. “Lawmakers need to devise systems to track the savings from school choice more closely to find out how the money is being used.”
Lack of transparency obscures some of the fiscal effects of private school choice programs, the report argues. It also acknowledges there are some circumstances where voucher programs may not save states money—specifically if the voucher program allocates an amount equal to state aid, the program is open to students already enrolled in private schools, or the public school funding is protected despite declining enrollment.
The report’s analysis does not include fixed costs for district schools—such as buildings—which schools still have to pay to maintain even if they have fewer students and therefore less per-pupil funding. But it ventures a counter argument for readers who might raise that question, noting that state school finance laws are “frequently ... written in a way that results in much of the savings from a school voucher program being passively reallocated back to the public schools.”
The report provides a thorough examination of each state, which you can find here.
Chart from ‘The School Voucher Audit,’ by Jeff Spalding for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.