March 10, 2017
Evidence Mounts Against Voucher Bill on Governor’s Desk
Virginia lawmakers recently approved a flawed bill that would create voucher-like education savings accounts that send taxpayer dollars to families pursuing private education or homeschooling. The bill narrowly passed the House (50-49) and Senate (21-19) with representatives from both parties voting against it. The bill now awaits action from the governor to sign, amend, or veto.
Unfortunately, the bill has significant problems raising concerns that funds would not be equitably distributed to families, appropriately spent, or benefit students truly lacking choice when it comes to their education.
For instance, the payment going to families is based on geography – where the student happens to live – not need or cost. The amount going to families is set at 90 percent of the state’s share of the SOQ cost, which varies from $2,100 to as much as $6,846. This variation has nothing to do with the financial need of the family or the cost of pursuing private education for the area. As a result, the bill would have wildly unequal outcomes. For example, a family living in Surry would receive $2,597, which is less than half as much as a family living in neighboring Sussex – $5,886 – even though they could be living only a couple miles away.
Further, families that lack the means to supplement the payment with their own money would be left out. Since the payment is insufficient to cover the cost of private school tuition in most areas of the state, families will have to make sizable payments out of their own pocket to participate. Many families don’t have those resources. The state estimates the average payment to be $4,632, while average private school tuition is over $13,000 in Virginia.
This proposal goes before the governor at a time when national leaders are considering federal support for private school vouchers that similarly provide tax dollars to help pay for private school tuition. It also comes as new studies raise serious concerns that these programs do not improve student performance and can even hurt their test scores.
A review from researchers at Tulane University looked at math and reading test scores for students randomly selected for Louisiana’s voucher program. They found a “negative impact on participating students’ academic achievement in the first two years of its operation.” The negative impact was most severe in math where students in the voucher program dropped 24 percentile points below their counterparts who did not participate in the program.
Another report recently released by the Economic Policy Institute finds limited and unclear improvements for students in programs in Florida, Indiana, and Louisiana. The report also finds no solid evidence for student gains in Milwaukee’s voucher program – the second largest and oldest program in the U.S. The report recommends investing in proven strategies such as early childhood education, after-school and summer programs, teacher training, and improved student health and nutrition programs.
Given the flaws with the bill in Virginia and the mounting evidence that vouchers are not effective as advertised, Virginia might be better suited investing its resources elsewhere, like its public schools.
–Chris Duncombe, Policy Analyst