School Privatization Policy Brief - Southern ...

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School Privatization Policy Brief - Southern ...
                                                                 Policy Brief
SEF Position
SEF opposes all school voucher programs, education savings ac-
counts, tax-credit scholarship programs, and any other efforts to
fund private schools with public dollars.

                                                                       forms of school vouchers from the Center
Background                                                             on Education Policy concluded that “studies
                                                                       have generally found no clear advantage
From tax exemptions to direct grants for
                                                                       in academic achievement for students
scholarships for K-12 students, state policy-                                                                    3
                                                                       attending private schools with vouchers.”
makers have found creative ways to funnel
                                                                       Most research findings show no material
taxpayer dollars away from public schools
                                                                       difference in learning outcomes when
and into private schools. School privatiza-
                                                                       comparing students who use vouchers
tion policies provide families of various
                                                                       to attend private schools and those who
income levels and disability (or ability) sta-
                                                                       are enrolled in public schools. Despite
tuses opportunities to use public dollars to
                                                                       the lack of evidence that school vouchers
finance enrollment in private schools. In the
                                                                       have any substantial positive impact on
seventeen states SEF serves, twelve states
                                                                       student achievement, the advancement
operate school privatization programs that
                                                                       of voucher programs in many states has
provide either school vouchers, tax-credit
                                                                       not slowed. State and federal legislatures
scholarships, or education savings accounts,
                                                                       continue to introduce bills that spread
resulting in 276,000 participating students
                                                                       school privatization efforts regardless
and amounting to $1.6 billion in state fund-
                                                                       of the negative impacts on traditional
ing or tax benefits to fund private schools or
                                                                       public schools, including United States
pay for private education services.2
                                                                       Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s
   A review of the most comprehensive
  Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.
  SEF analysis of ED Choice Database.
  Usher, A. & Kober, N. (2011). Keeping Informed about School Vouchers: A Review of Major Developments and Research. Washington, DC:
Center on Education Policy.

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School Privatization Policy Brief - Southern ...
proposal to develop the Education                  tax credit
                                                                Tax Credit Scholarship: States
Freedom Scholarship—a federal tax credit                        offer businesses or individuals

scholarship program.                                            tax credits to donate money
                                                                to non-profit student scholar-
STATE PROGRAMS THAT                                             ship-granting organizations.
REDIRECT PUBLIC SCHOOL                                          Students who meet the require-
FUNDING TO PRIVATE SCHOOLS                                      ments of the program can use
                                                                the scholarship money toward
            School Voucher: States offer                        tuition at a private school. These
            parents a certain amount of                         tax benefits, in part, would go to
            public education funding for                        support local public schools.
            private school tuition. States
            set different and varying levels
            of requirements that schools
            must meet to be eligible to
            accept a voucher, and the
            number of approved schools
            varies per state. Parents are
            required to pay any difference
            between the voucher amount
            and the school’s tuition unless
            the private school agrees not to
            charge more than the amount of
            the voucher.                        FAMILY ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS

       •    Education Savings Account               States establish eligibility requirements
            (ESA): States set aside funding     for students and families to access school
            and place it in individual ac-      privatization programs. Eligibility require-
            counts for students. Parents can    ments may include a maximum family
            use the money toward a variety      income level threshold, prior year public
            of education-related costs, in-     school enrollment, or disability status.
            cluding private school tuition,     However, states have complete autonomy
            homeschooling costs (such as        in setting eligibility standards. For exam-
            online course tutoring), and even   ple, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana,
            on some types of therapy. Allow-    Mississippi, and North Carolina operate
            able uses vary by state, but ESAs   school voucher programs without an in-
            typically support private school    come limit.
            tuition and education services.

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School Privatization Policy Brief - Southern ...
CONCERNS WITH STATE SCHOOL                                                      Students from low-income families
PRIVATIZATION EFFORTS                                                           who cannot cover the difference
                                                                                between the cost in tuition and the
     •   The establishment of private schools                                   program amount are unable to
         in the southern United States is                                       access these programs.
         deeply rooted in historic efforts
         to maintain racial segregation as                                 •    Under the Individuals with Disabil-
         demonstrated by the dramatic                                           ities Education Act (IDEA), students
         growth of private schools and                                          with disabilities are already entitled
         enrollment in private schools by white                                 to attend private schools with the
         students across the southern states                                    full cost of tuition covered when the
         after Brown v. Board of Education,                                     public school is unable to provide
         as compared to such growth and                                         services that meet a student’s need.5
         enrollment across the country.4                                        State school privatization programs,
                                                                                however, force families with disabled

      Programs that use public funds for private schools do
       not cover the full cost of tuition and therefore do not
       equally support all families, impacting low income
            families that cannot cover the difference.

     •   State governments have a consti-                                       children to pay the difference in the
         tutional responsibility to ensure all                                  voucher amount and the school’s
         children have access to free public                                    tuition in addition to requiring fami-
         education, not a private one.                                          lies to waive their right to a free and
                                                                                appropriate public or private educa-
     •   Programs that use public funds for                                     tion protected under federal law.
         private schools usually do not cover
         the full cost of tuition and therefore                            •    School voucher programs do
         do not equally support all families.                                   not create greater educational

  Southern Education Foundation. A New Era of State-Funded Segregation in Private Schools. Retrieved January 13, 2019, from https://www.
tion-in-Private-S.aspx; Southern Education Foundation. A History of Private Schools and Race in the American South. Retrieved January 13,
2019, from
  Individuals with Disabilities Act Statute: 20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(10)(B). Retrieved from

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School Privatization Policy Brief - Southern ...
opportunity in rural communities
         where no private schools may exist.
                                                                    School Privatization Efforts
         In addition, voucher programs                              in Southern States
         further strain funding resources in
         communities that already have lower                        Currently, one of the key issues dominating
         densities of students and schools.                         education policy conversations in state
                                                                    legislatures and the federal government is
    •    Using public funds for private                             the push to expand school privatization.
         schools eliminates or reduces public                       Within the 2019 legislative calendar
         accountability for taxpayer dollars.                       and with various degrees of success,
         Private schools do not face the same                       Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, and West
         requirements as public schools                             Virginia all made efforts to expand school
         related to state approved academic                         privatization:
         accountability, publicly reported
         budgets, or performance outcomes
         required of public schools, and do
         not adhere to requirements for
         transparency of open meetings and
         records laws as do public schools.

    •    Federal and state laws allow families
         to exercise school choice options                          Florida: In May, Governor Ron DeSantis
         within the existing public school sys-                     signed into law the Family Empowerment
         tems by allowing access to charter,                        Scholarship Act, a state-funded school
         magnet, and other traditional public                       voucher program. The scholarship will have
         schools, including in the event a stu-                     the capacity to cover 18,000 students and
         dent is zoned to attend a chronically                      could have as much as $130 million allocat-
         underperforming school.                                    ed toward it in the 2019-2020 state budget.
                                                                    The passage of the Family Empowerment
    •    Using public funds for private schools                     Scholarship Act means that state funding in
         is an inefficient use of taxpayer money                    Florida for voucher programs will be close
         because it forces states to spread limit-                  to $1 billion in the upcoming budget.6 While
         ed taxpayer resources into two school                      the state’s tax credit scholarship is funded
         systems—one public and one private—                        through individual and corporate dona-
         the latter of which is not accountable                     tions given in exchange for dollar-for-dollar
         to the taxpayers supporting it.                            tax write-offs, the Family Empowerment
                                                                    Scholarship will be funded directly by
  Fineout, G. (2019, May 9). DeSantis Signs Voucher Program into Law; Legal Challenge Could Be Next. Politico PRO. https://subscriber.

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taxpayer dollars. This difference makes                             Scholarship, the Gardiner Scholarship, and
the program susceptible to constitutional                           the Hope Scholarship for tens of thousands
challenges because the public funding for                           of students to attend private schools. The
private schools will derive from individual                         Family Empowerment Scholarship program
taxes rather than individual or business                            fundamentally duplicates existing school
donations that can be written off.7                                 privatization efforts.
    Instead of focusing on improving
Florida’s antiquated and inequitable fund-                          Tennessee: In
ing formula, in use since 1973,8 the Family                         late May, first-term
Empowerment Scholarship program will                                Republican Governor
likely divert $130 million of taxpayer funds                        Bill Lee signed into
in Florida away from public schools, which                          law Tennessee’s
are already among the most underfunded                              Education Savings
in the nation. According to data from the                           Account program, target-
National Education Association, in the 2016-                        ed for students from low-income families
2017 school year, Florida ranked 43rd in                            in Shelby County and Metro Nashville. With
per-pupil expenditure nationwide, spending                          the potential to cost as much as $125 mil-
on average $9,293 per student. The same                             lion in taxpayer funds by 2024, the state’s
report shows that little improvement has                            new ESA law will cover expenses including,
been made, with Florida still ranking in the                        but not limited to, private school tuition,
nation’s bottom 20% in per-pupil expendi-                           tutoring services, transportation, and
ture in the 2018-2019 school year.9                                 post-secondary expenses and fees. Despite
    Additionally, since the Florida                                 its intentions to expand access for students
Department of Education explicitly                                  from low-income families, students of color,
relinquishes its regulatory and oversight                           and students with disabilities, the law will
authority over private schools, usage of                            have the opposite effect and will likely
the school voucher program makes it                                 perpetuate inequities in Tennessee for two
difficult to guarantee that students will                           distinct reasons. First, programs that use
be taught by certified teachers or pushed                           public funds for private schools usually do
to fulfill the appropriate requirements to                          not cover the full cost of tuition and there-
graduate and progress to a quality post-                            fore do not actually support all students
secondary institution or career of their                            equally, despite the law targeting historical-
choice. Finally, Florida already funds the                          ly underserved students. Tennessee’s new
Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, the McKay                           ESA program does not allow any individual
  Postal, L. (2019, May 9). DeSantis Signs Bill Creating Florida’s Fifth School Voucher Program. Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved from
  National Education Association. (2019). Rankings of the States 2018 and Estimates of School Statistics 2019. Retrieved from http:// Rankings and Estimates Report.pdf.

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student to receive more than $7,300 for an                                  already set aside for families to use
ESA. In many cases, private school tuition is                               toward private school tuition. Finally,
double the ESA allocated amount, allowing                                   students with disabilities and special
just a portion of eligible students whose                                   needs already have comprehensive
families can afford the remaining tuition                                   protections and guarantees under
to access the ESA. Second, the law strips                                   IDEA, one of which grants them
students with disabilities of their civil rights                            access to a free private school edu-
protections already guaranteed under IDEA                                   cation and free education services in
by prompting them to waive their already                                    cases where their needs are not met
guaranteed right to a free and appropriate                                  in a local public school.
public education as a condition for partici-
pating in the program.                                                  •   The Georgia Educational Scholarship
                                                                            Act is also inequitable because of its
Georgia: Early this year, the Georgia                                       failure to guarantee funding for all
General Assembly introduced the Georgia                                     transportation costs for students who
Educational Scholarship Act, an ESA meant                                   would opt to attend a private school
primarily to serve low-income families and                                  but cannot afford to get there. As a
families with children who have disabilities.                               result, low-income parents and fam-
The proposal did not reach the governor’s                                   ilies are automatically shut out from
desk but did come close to advancing                                        the opportunity to fully participate in
through Georgia state chambers, despite it                                  the ESA program due to their inability
epitomizing government inefficiencies and                                   to access all available schools, further
fundamental inequities. For example:                                        exacerbating the opportunity gap
                                                                            already plaguing public education in
     •   The Georgia Educational Scholarship                                the state.
         Act duplicates existing government
         school privatization efforts. Students                    West Virginia: On June 3rd, the State
         with disabilities in Georgia can al-                      Senate passed a bill that would authorize
         ready access private school schol-                        ESAs to direct taxpayer funds toward help-
         arships. The Georgia Special Needs                        ing families making $150,000 or less fund
         Scholarship Program helps students                        private school education and other ap-
         with special needs access schools                         proved education-related services for their
         that best fit their needs. Students                       children. According to projections, the mea-
         with disabilities also have access to                     sure is expected to cost $945,000 in its first
         the Qualified Education Expenses                          year, decrease in its second year, and in-
         Tax Credit program, which is funding                      crease in its third year.10 ESA legislation was

  McElhinny, B. (2019, June 3). Education Savings Account Bill Passes W.Va. Senate. WV MetroNews. Retrieved from http://wvmetronews.

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repeatedly voted down in West Virginia’s
House of Delegates and faces opposition
                                                                          Policy Recommendations
from Governor Jim Justice and Democrats
                                                                          To mitigate the attack on public school
                                                                          education and provide the necessary
                                                                          resources for school systems
Trump Administration: The United States
                                                                          in the South, the Southern
Department of Education’s budget under
                                                                          Education Foundation
the current Administration proposed a
                                                                          proposes three critical
$5 billion federal education tax credit
                                                                          equity recommendations
scholarship similar to programs already
                                                                          for federal, state, and local
in place in over a dozen states across the
country. Known officially as the Education
Freedom Scholarship and Opportunity Act,
                                                                            1. Phase out any of the existing private
the program allows individuals to receive
                                                                               school voucher programs, including
a tax break for contributions of up to 10
                                                                               school vouchers, education savings
percent of their adjusted gross income
                                                                               accounts, tax-credit scholarships, or
to any scholarship-granting nonprofit in
                                                                               any other effort that funds private
the country and also allows businesses
                                                                               schools with public dollars, and
to contribute up to 5 percent of their
                                                                               prohibit authorization of any future
net taxable income.11 This program is
                                                                               school voucher or similar programs
especially harmful in both its intentions
                                                                               moving forward.
and its manifestation because it will give
the nation’s wealthiest individuals and
                                                                            2. Implement equitable K-12 state
corporations a significant tax break for
                                                                               funding formulas that address
essentially funding vouchers for students
                                                                               historical and present-day
to attend unaccountable and relatively
                                                                               opportunity and achievement gaps
unregulated schools. It also redistributes
                                                                               and fiscal inequities that negatively
tax dollars that would, in part, go to public
                                                                               impact low-income students.
schools and redirects them to private ones.
The program also represents a back-door
                                                                            3. Update and improve school funding
approach to nationalizing a school voucher
                                                                               formulas so historically underserved
system that is intended to diminish the
                                                                               students receive additional
value of public schools and significantly
                                                                               supports to meet national academic
slash the regulatory and protectionary
                                                                               achievement norms.
powers of the United States Department of

   Green, E. (2019, February 28). Betsy DeVos Backs $5 Billion in Tax Credits for School Choice. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://

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Table of School Voucher Programs in the South*

State/ Name of                       Latest    # of Students Participation   Average    Total State
Voucher Program                     Available Participating      Rate        Voucher   Investment
                                     Year of                                  Value

Accountability Act of 2013           2017          145
Table of School Voucher Programs in the South*

State/ Name of                                        Latest      # of Students   Participation   Average    Total State
Voucher Program                                      Available    Participating       Rate        Voucher   Investment
                                                      Year of                                      Value

Dyslexia Therapy Scholarship for                       2019           252             2%          $4,985      $1.3M
Students with Dyslexia
Nate Rogers Scholarship for                            2019            1
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