Vouchers and tax credits win again

Patrick Gibbons

*Florida – good weather, good beaches, better schools

Nevada spends $53 million per biennium on full-day kindergarten, $290 million on class-size reduction, over $100 million on teacher bonuses for extra degrees earned, $6.6 million on early-childhood education, and millions more for education schools producing teachers that are statistically no better than Teach for America employees. Nevada easily wastes over $400 million every biennium on education programs that provide little to no benefit for Nevada’s students.

NPRI has mentioned many times that the Silver State should spend money effectively – not simply spend more money. The good news is there are effective policies out there. Most recently, Florida’s Step Up for Students program – a privately funded (donors are given tax credits in return) scholarship program for low-income kids to attend any public or private school of their parents’ choice – has proven to have a modest yet statistically significant impact on improving the quality of public schools. And yes, individual students using the scholarships are performing better, too.

Of course, the modest benefits of the program might be due to the modest funding. The program began its life with a $50 million limitation on donations – peanuts compared to the $23 billion statewide operating budget of Florida’s K-12 school system. Imagine the impact if even more scholarships were issued.

Greg Forster of the Foundation for Educational Choice notes that there are now 18 empirical studies that demonstrate a statistically significant positive impact for public schools when faced with competition from vouchers (meaning public schools improve). Only one study finds no gains (incidentally, that program protected public schools from competition because they didn’t lose funding when students left for a private school). Zero studies show public schools are harmed by vouchers.

Oh, and how well did Florida’s dramatic class-size reduction program fair? Not well, according to Dr. Paul Peterson of Harvard University. According to a study cited by Dr. Peterson, “The study strongly suggests that monies restricted for the purpose of funding class-size reduction mandates are not a productive use of limited educational resources.”

Read NPRI policy fellow Dr. Mathew Ladner’s opinion on these findings, as well as the St. Petersburg Times article.