School Choice & Charters

Voucher Programs Expanding in States, But With Narrow Requirements

By Sarah Tully — March 20, 2017 2 min read
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The number of state voucher programs has expanded in the past five years, but the rules often restrict which students can receive public money for private schools, a new report shows.

The Education Commission of the States this month released its 50-State Comparison: Vouchers, detailing which states have voucher programs and the requirements for each.

The commission, a non-partisan research group, focused solely on state-funded programs that allow students to use public dollars to go to private schools. The report leaves out other voucher-like programs, including education savings accounts, which are often lumped into such discussions.

A total of 14 states, plus Washington D.C., have voucher programs that fit the commission’s criteria. See Education Week‘s video explainer of the different types of school choice options.

In the past five years, four states launched voucher programs for the first time: North Carolina, Arkansas, Maryland, and Mississippi.

Including those states, a total of nine new programs were started in six states, as some have more than one, said Micah Ann Wixom, a commission policy analyst who worked on the report. Some states, such as Wisconsin, expanded vouchers beyond previous geographic boundaries.

Within those programs, students often must meet specific requirements, such as disabilities or family income. Mississippi has a program for students with dyslexia. The Autism Scholarship Program is available in Ohio. (Correction: A previous version of this blog post had the incorrect number of Ohio voucher programs.)

“I don’t think that’s well understood outside the education world that voucher programs typically do have requirements of some kind,” Wixom said.

Indiana has the most expansive voucher program, and includes more middle-income families—an expansion that occurred largely under then-Gov. Mike Pence, now the vice president. Education Week’s Lisa Stark recently took a close look at how Indiana’s voucher program is working.

The commission decided to do its comparison of voucher programs to update a 2012 report, which covered voucher, scholarship tax credits, and individual tax credit and deductions.

“We’ve certainly seen a heightened degree of interest in the last couple of years, especially since the (presidential) campaign and election,” Wixom said. “There’s always been an interest, but it’s certainly been heightened.”

A few highlights from the report:

  • Nine states and the District of Columbia require voucher recipients to take a state assessment or national standardized test.
  • Eleven programs in nine states have programs for students with disabilities.
  • Four states and the District of Columbia have household income requirements.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.