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School Choice & Charters Tracker

Which States Have Private School Choice?

Vouchers, ESAs, tax-credit scholarships: State-funded programs that let parents direct their children’s education are growing
By Libby Stanford, Mark Lieberman & Victoria A. Ifatusin — January 31, 2024 | Updated: February 09, 2024 5 min read
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Programs that direct public money toward private schools of a family’s choosing or family accounts that can cover any education expenses outside the public school system are proliferating.

Parents say they have sought out these programs as a way to deliver an education customized to their children’s unique needs. Politicians championing them say they represent a lifeline for students trapped in underperforming schools. Critics argue the programs deprive public schools of much-needed resources and point out that many children now benefiting from private school choice funds were already attending private schools beforehand. Several private school choice programs are facing lawsuits alleging that they violate state constitutions.

Students taking advantage of private school choice represent a small fraction of the nation’s total K-12 population, but the numbers signing up for new state programs have sometimes exceeded projections.

This tracker provides a concise yet comprehensive snapshot of the private school choice landscape on a rolling basis. In our States to Watch section, we highlight states where new private school choice programs or other notable private school choice policy changes are under consideration. Our glossary defines common terms in discussions about school choice.

As of Jan. 31, 2024, 29 states and the District of Columbia have at least one private school choice program, according to an Education Week analysis. Of those, 11 states have at least one private school choice program that’s universally accessible to K-12 students in the state.

22     States have tax-credit scholarships

13     States have education savings accounts

10     States and the District of Columbia have vouchers

2     States have tax-credit education savings accounts

States with at least one universal private school choice program

States with one or more private school choice program

School Choice Glossary

Education Savings Account (ESA)

Education savings accounts provide public per-pupil funds—often a percentage of per-student state funding—to families with children who don’t attend public schools that they can use to pay for private school tuition or other education expenses, such as tutoring and homeschooling supplies. Some states restrict ESAs or specific ESA programs within the state to students with disabilities, students attending schools with poor performance, and/or students from low-income families. Recently, more states have begun adopting universal ESAs, which all families can access regardless of income, disability status, or any other qualifying factor. ESA funds are generally given directly to families, often in the form of debit cards with restrictions on how the money can be spent. While ESAs and vouchers are often used interchangeably, what sets ESAs apart from vouchers are that they can be used for a wide array of education expenses, not just private school tuition. (See EdWeek's 2023 explainer on ESAs.)


Voucher

School vouchers describe public funds that families can use at private schools of their choice, including those that are religious, to subsidize the cost of student tuition. Many vouchers are restricted to students with disabilities, students attending poor-performing schools, and students from low-income families, but some states have vouchers that are available to any student. (See EdWeek's 2017 explainer on vouchers.)


Tax-Credit Scholarship

Tax-credit scholarship programs provide scholarships to families that they can use at private schools of their choice, including those that are religious. The scholarships most commonly come from state-authorized nonprofit organizations, which issue the scholarships out of donations that they receive from businesses or individual taxpayers who receive tax credits for those donations. Eligibility can be limited based on family income, disability status, or other factors, or it can be universal.


Tax-Credit Education Savings Account

Tax-Credit ESAs are a less common form of ESA through which families receive a designated, per-pupil amount from a state-authorized nonprofit organization that administers the account. Families can use the funds to cover any educational expense, including private school tuition, tutoring, or homeschooling costs. Businesses and individual taxpayers receive tax credits for donations to those nonprofit organizations.



States to watch

An ongoing look at significant private school choice policy developments:

  • Alabama:

    Gov. Kay Ivey, a Republican, on Feb. 6 unveiled her proposal for a universal education savings account worth $7,000 for private school students and $2,000 for homeschool students. The state would spend $100 million a year on the program, which would begin in the 2025-26 school year. For the first two years, students from families with income up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level would be eligible; after that, all students in the state could apply. Lawmakers will consider the proposal during the 2024 legislative session, which kicked off in early February.

  • Georgia:

    An effort to create a voucher program in the state faltered just before the finish line in 2022, when a bipartisan group of lawmakers that included rural Republicans blocked the bill. Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, gave a prominent shout-out to vouchers during a January 2024 State of the State speech. Another attempt to pass a voucher bill appears likely, even as some prior opponents in the legislature say they haven’t changed their minds.

  • Kentucky:

    Republican lawmakers and school choice proponents hope to include on the 2024 ballot a proposed constitutional amendment that would pave the way for private school choice. A previous effort to create private school choice programs in the state was struck down by the Kentucky Supreme Court.

  • Idaho:

    Several lawmakers are pitching a new tax-credit program that would devote $50 million to allow parents in the state to cover expenses related to private education. Concerns about costs and the detrimental effects on public schools have doomed similar efforts in the past, but it remains to be seen how conservative states’ private school choice gains in 2023 will affect state efforts to expand it further in 2024.

  • Nebraska:

    A coalition of public school advocacy groups successfully petitioned to secure a spot on the November 2024 ballot for a referendum asking voters whether to repeal or maintain the state’s tax credit scholarship program, signed into law in 2023. In response, Lou Ann Linehan, a Republican state senator, on Feb. 6 filed a bill that would essentially negate the ballot measure by eliminating the 2023 program and replacing it with a new one that sends $25 million in state funds directly to scholarship-granting organizations.

    Linehan has also asked the Nebraska secretary of state, Bob Evnen, to remove the ballot measure altogether. If the question remains on the ballot, it would be the first electoral test of public support for private school choice since almost two-thirds of Arizona voters overturned a proposed ESA expansion in 2018.

    Republican lawmakers in February also introduced a proposal for an education savings account worth $1,500. If passed, the program would be open to all private school students who submit an application, and it would launch in the 2025-26 school year.

  • New Hampshire

    Lawmakers in the state’s House of Representatives on Feb. 8 knocked down a proposal to make the state’s education savings account offering, worth roughly $4,100 per student, accessible to nearly all students regardless of income. Instead, lawmakers preliminarily approved a bill raising the income cap from 350 percent of the federal poverty line to 500 percent. The rejected proposals would have allowed all students, regardless of income, to receive ESAs if they fit into one of nine categories of vulnerability, including bullied students and students whose schools have contaminated water. Democrats and a handful of Republicans opposed the most expansive proposals.

  • Tennessee:

    Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, on Feb. 5 included $144 million in his proposed annual budget for an expansion of the state’s existing education savings account program. Starting in 2025, all students in the state would be eligible to apply for an education savings account worth roughly $7,000.

    Supporters believe all students in the state should have access to a program that’s currently only available in three urban counties. Critics argue the state should be more cautious with major new investments given its looming $600 million budget deficit, and that Lee’s proposal should spell out stronger accountability measures, like requiring participating students to take state exams.

    Meanwhile, in January 2024 an appeals court revived a lawsuit from parents and community members arguing that the state’s education savings account program is unconstitutional. The case, previously dismissed by a lower court, is ongoing.

  • Wyoming:

    Lawmakers in November 2023 proposed a bill to create education savings accounts worth up to $5,000 that would be available to students from families with incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty line. Proposals for similar programs with different funding mechanisms have failed in recent years.

Contact Information

For media or research inquiries about this data, contact library@educationweek.org.

How to Cite This Page

Which States Have Private School Choice? (2024, January 31). Education Week. Retrieved Month Day, Year from https://www.edweek.org/policy-politics/which-states-have-private-school-choice/2024/01

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