Special Report
School Choice & Charters

Voucher Programs Prove District-Finance Wild Card

January 03, 2014 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Voucher programs and tax-credit scholarships—school choice options available in many places that allow parents to apply public resources to help enroll their children in private schools—can be a wild card for school districts, particularly in terms of fiscal planning.

Modern-day voucher programs launched in the United States in 1990 with a districtwide program in Milwaukee and have gained significant steam in the past several years, with more than 40 states considering legislation to create such programs since 2011. Still, they remain contentious and often restricted. Most voucher and other tax-credit scholarship programs, for example, are not accessible for the general student population but limited to specific subgroups such as children with disabilities, low-income students, and, in some cases, those in rural areas.

Voucher advocates maintain that the programs actually provide savings for school districts, since the amount of money allocated for each voucher is typically less than the per-pupil funding amount, making it less expensive to educate more students. Critics, however, question that philosophy, saying that many of those students receiving vouchers would have gone to private schools regardless, essentially turning the scholarships into rebates for private school students.

Selected School Choice Options

State-funded scholarships given to eligible participants (typically children from low-income families, students in low-performing schools, and those with special needs) to be used toward private school tuition. Private schools that accept voucher students must comply with standards set by the state legislature, such as giving students state or national tests or requiring all teachers and administrators to have college degrees or certifications, for example. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have voucher programs.


Tax-Credit Scholarships:
Programs that allow individuals and corporations to direct a portion of their state taxes to certain organizations that then provide money to K-12 students in the form of scholarships. Such scholarships may be used at private schools or public schools outside the district, depending on the state’s program. Thirteen states have tax-credit-scholarship programs.


Personal Tax Credits:
Programs that allow parents to receive a tax credit for education costs such as private school tuition, textbooks, online education, tutoring, and supplies. Six states have personal-tax-credit programs.

Education Savings Accounts:
Government-authorized accounts set up for eligible students that provide money for education-related expenses such as textbooks, tutoring, private school tuition, or, in some cases, college. (What the funds can be used for depends on the parameters of each program.) There is one education savings account program, in Arizona.


District Focus:

  • Milwaukee’s voucher program started with 300 students in 1990 and had grown to 25,000 students in 2012. The state-backed program expanded to Racine, Wis., during the 2011-12 school year, when 250 students were allowed to participate. The cap was expanded to 500 students in 2012-13, and the cap has been lifted for subsequent years.
  • The District of Columbia’s voucher program is the first and only voucher program authorized by Congress. Since the program’s inception in 2004, the number of students participating has fluctuated between 1,000 and 2,000.
  • In addition to a statewide program in Ohio, Cleveland has a separate voucher program, established by the state in 1995 for students in the metropolitan area. About 6,000 participated in the 2012-13 school year.
  • The 61,000-student Douglas County school district in Colorado approved a pilot voucher program in the 2011-12 school year to provide students with up to $4,600 in per-pupil funds to go toward private school tuition. But the program has been held up in legal battles since its inception and has not been implemented.

Sources: National Conference of State Legislatures; the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Choice & Charters Opinion The Kind of School Reform That Parents Actually Want
Parents' inclination to focus on solving specific problems rather than system change helps explain the appetite for novel school options.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Choice & Charters Opinion What Do Parents Look for When Choosing a School?
New polling sheds light on what a nationally representative sample of parents had to say on this question this summer.
2 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School Choice & Charters Virtual Charters in Hot Water Again. Accusations of Fraud Prompt $150M Lawsuit
Indiana officials seek to recoup more than $150 million they say was either wrongly obtained or misspent by a consortium of virtual schools.
Arika Herron, The Indianapolis Star
2 min read
Indiana's attorney general Todd Rokita speaks at a news conference on Sept. 16, 2020, in Indianapolis. Rokita filed a lawsuit against a group of online charter schools accused of defrauding the state out of millions of dollars Thursday, July 8, 2021.
Indiana's attorney general Todd Rokita speaks at a news conference on Sept. 16, 2020, in Indianapolis.
Darron Cummings/AP
School Choice & Charters How the Pandemic Helped Fuel the Private School Choice Movement
State lawmakers got a new talking point as they pushed to create and expand programs to send students to private schools.
8 min read
Collage showing two boys in classroom during pandemic wearing masks with cropped photo of feet and arrows going in different directions.
Collage by Gina Tomko/EducationWeek (Images: Getty)