Will Strickland’s Proposal to Cut the EdChoice Program Pay Off?

March 26, 2007 • Commentary
This article appeared in the Columbus Dispatch on March 26, 2007.

Gov. Ted Strickland announced on March 14 that he intends to roll back Ohio’s tiny school‐​voucher program to save money in the next budget. The problem is, it would cost a lot more to send the thousands of children in the program back to the failing schools from which they escaped.

The EdChoice program provides to the parents who apply vouchers of no more than $4,250 for K-8 and $5,000 for high school, which enable approximately 2,500 children to get out of inadequate public schools. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, after adjusting for inflation, it costs about $10,500 for the average public school to educate a child, and only about $5,300 for the average private school. So it?s not hard to see how a state could save huge sums through school choice.

If Strickland wants to save money and improve education for Ohioans, he should follow the lead of other Democratic governors and expand school choice by creating a highimpact, low‐​cost education‐​tax‐​credit program, like the ones that are saving money in other states.

These programs allow businesses or individuals to take dollar‐​for‐​dollar credits on donations to scholarship‐​granting organizations that help lower‐​income families pay for a school of their choice. If a business owed the city $5,000 in taxes and donated $5,000 for scholarships, it would pay nothing in taxes. Individual credits allow taxpayers to take the same kind of credit on education expenses for their own children, and even for the children of relatives and friends.

Existing tax‐​credit programs save states substantial sums. A Cato Institute study estimates that under its old $27 million cap, Pennsylvania’s business‐​tax‐​credit program saved the state between $150 million and $200 million annually, because the amount spent on each scholarship is so much less than the amount spent per pupil in the public system. By covering just what a family needs to send their child to a better school, what?s pocket change to a bureaucrat becomes a lifeline for thousands of children.

But the primary benefit of education tax credits is that they make schools accountable to parents. They encourage a sense of responsibility and agency in parents, and allow them to pick the best schools for their children. It?s no coincidence that all controlled studies of school choice find that it increases student achievement.

The tax credits help families by allowing low‐​income children to escape expensive and failing schools, and they also reinforce whole communities by enlisting the participation of local businesses, churches, and other nonprofits in educating children.

And if all that isn’t reason enough for Strickland to support education tax credits, he should take a look at where the political winds are blowing. Comparable programs are picking up steam across the country, even among Democrats.

Last year, Arizona, Rhode Island and Iowa passed tax‐​credit programs, and Pennsylvania expanded its existing business‐​tax credit for donations to private scholarship funds. The Arizona and Iowa bills got past Democratic governors, and the Rhode Island business‐​tax credit came about in a legislature controlled by Democrats. And in true‐​blue New York, Democratic Gov. Eliot Spitzer proposed an education‐​tax deduction in his first state budget.

Education tax credits are win‐​win propositions for any state, and they are becoming the bipartisan schoolchoice policy. Ohio Republicans should hold the line against rolling back the voucher program they passed and push to expand school choice through education tax credits. Strickland and Ohio Democrats should take a lesson from their compatriots in other states and embrace real education reform.

Educational choice is the only way Ohio can save money while saving kids from failing schools. And who could ask for anything more?

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