U.S. voucher, school choice enrollment reaches record high

Jan 23, 2014, 11:56 ET from The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

INDIANAPOLIS, Jan. 23, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- A record number of families are using taxpayer-funded programs to access private schools, according to a new Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice report. Still, that group says "school choice" laws are too restrictive but expects states to enact expansions or new programs in 2014.

This week the Friedman Foundation released its annual review of the 49 private school choice programs operating in 23 states and Washington, D.C., showing which plans have the highest usage, eligibility rates, and per-student funding.

In the 2013-14 school year, students receiving school vouchers, scholarships funded by donors who can receive offsetting tax credits, or education savings accounts grew to more than 301,000, from 260,000 the prior year. Among those programs, the 10 most utilized are:

  1. Florida's tax-credit scholarships for low-income students: 59,674 enrollees.
  2. Pennsylvania's tax-credit scholarships for low-income students: 59,218 enrollees.
  3. Florida's vouchers for students with special needs: 27,040 enrollees.
  4. Wisconsin's vouchers for low-income Milwaukee families: 24,915 enrollees.
  5. Arizona's tax-credit scholarships for all students: 23,959 enrollees.
  6. Indiana's vouchers for low- and middle-income families: 19,809 enrollees.
  7. Ohio's vouchers for students in underperforming public schools: 16,999 enrollees.
  8. Georgia's tax-credit scholarships for all students: 13,285 enrollees. 
  9. Iowa's tax-credit scholarships for low-income students: 10,446 enrollees.
  10. Louisiana's vouchers for low-income students in underperforming public schools: 6,775 enrollees.

Participation in school choice programs has risen steadily over time, since their modern introduction in 1990 with Wisconsin's Milwaukee voucher program. With broader programs being signed into law in recent years, enrollments are increasing more rapidly. 

Louisiana's voucher program—which is facing legal challenges from President Obama's Department of Justice—has seen its enrollment more than triple since 2012, when the parish-based program expanded statewide. Indiana's statewide voucher program has doubled each year in size since its creation.

"School choice has grown from small, urban-based programs to broader plans now impacting suburban and even rural communities," Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation, said. "This year we could see school choice continue to grow in states like Arizona, Iowa, and Mississippi."

Enlow expects at least 15 states will consider school choice legislation in 2014, either expanding existing programs or creating new plans. Two states could see constitutional amendments placed on the November ballot to allow for private school choice.

Enlow said lawmakers should "think big" when creating such programs, specifically focusing on eligibility and funding. In its rankings of all 49 programs, the Friedman Foundation showed voucher and education savings account programs tend to have stronger funding but weaker eligibility, whereas tax-credit programs have higher eligibility but low per-student funding.

"All students should be eligible for school choice and adequate funding should follow them to the schools of their parents' choosing," Enlow said. "Equally important, do not burden private schools with regulations in the name of 'accountability.' Parents hold private schools accountable based on their children's unique needs."

The Friedman Foundation report, "The ABCs of School Choice," is available at edchoice.org/ABCs.

SOURCE The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice