September 24, 2008 2:48PM

School Choice Q & A

This year’s SPN K-12 Education Reform Summit delivered yet another line‐​up of great information and hard questions. I’d like to follow up, belatedly, on one of the most important questions raised during the conference; are education tax credits more viable than vouchers?

If we hope to succeed against the power of the teachers unions and entrenched political interests, we need to approach this issue in the most careful, systematic, productive way we can. With that in mind, I’d like to pose a few questions that might shed some light on the debate …

How many voucher and credit programs serving at least low‐​income children have passed since 1995?

  • Since 1995, seven state‐​wide tax credit programs have been passed and all are still in operation. Two of these programs, in Arizona and Georgia, are universal‐​in‐​principle, and none are limited to special‐​needs. In 2008, Georgia passed a $50 million dollar program with no family income cap on student eligibility. Not included in the tally is a universal education tax deduction program passed in Louisiana in 2008.
  • Since 1995, four state‐​wide voucher programs serving (at least) low‐​income children have passed and only one survives. Only one universal‐​in‐​principle program passed, in Utah, and it was overturned. Not included in the tally is a Louisiana voucher program passed in 2008 for poor students in failing schools in New Orleans.

How many since 2005?

  • Since 2005, no state‐​wide voucher programs have passed that serve at least low‐​income children.
  • Since 2005, four tax credit programs have passed that serve at least low‐​income children.
  • Only one modern statewide voucher program – Ohio’s – serves students other than those with special needs or in foster care. Three additional modern programs – in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and New Orleans – serve students in those cities. Three statewide programs – in Florida, Colorado and Utah – were overturned by the courts or referendum.

How bipartisan is the support for vouchers and tax credits?

  • When Florida’s donation tax credit program was passed seven years ago, only one Democratic legislator voted for the measure. Last month, a third of state house Democrats, half the black caucus and the entire Hispanic caucus voted to expand that program.
  • Arizona, Rhode Island, and Iowa all passed education tax‐​credit initiatives in 2006, and Pennsylvania expanded its existing program. The Arizona, Iowa, and Pennsylvania bills became law under Democratic governors, and the Rhode Island business‐​tax credit was born in a legislature controlled by Democrats.
  • A government fully controlled by Democrats in Iowa—governor and both legislative houses—actually expanded the tax‐​credit dollar cap by 50 percent in 2007.
  • In contrast, Democratic governors have recently made serious attempts to de‐​fund voucher programs in Milwaukee and Ohio.