How the wealthiest families are taking advantage of school vouchers

States and some affluent taxpayers appear to be diverting ever more funds from public schools to private institutions.

It’s all about voucher tax credits—and families with incomes over $200,000 are snapping them up in the name of school choice.

Voucher tax credits—available in at least 21 states—reimburse individuals for “donations” made to organizations that hand out vouchers for free or reduced tuition at private schools, many of which are operated by religious organizations. Never-before-published data reveals that the wealthiest families are claiming most of these voucher credits in three states that shared data, according to a study by Carl Davis, research director at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

When a taxpayer gives $1,000 to a private school organization and gets a $1,000 tax credit in return, those tax dollars have been funneled away from public K12 districts. While other charitable gifts tend to save taxpayers less than 10 cents per dollar, “supersized” voucher credits often reimburse individuals for the full amount, Davis explained.

“State voucher tax credits are among the most significant tools eroding the public education system and propping up private schools,” he asserted. “Despite voucher tax credits’ charitable facade, the reality is they allow wealthy families to opt out of paying for public education and other public services.”

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States also appear to be increasingly diverting funds from public schools to private institutions. In seven states that have provided vouchers the longest—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin—spending on those programs has grown considerably as funding for public schools has declined. Except in Ohio, per-pupil funding also dropped as enrollment rose, according to an Education Law Center report.

“Even when students with vouchers leave public schools for private schools, the fixed costs involved in running public school systems remain virtually unchanged,” the Law Center’s report concluded. “In addition, the children with the greatest needs, who, in turn, require the greatest resources, in large part remain in the public schools.

As for voucher tax credits, Davis, of the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, stated bluntly that they “are without merit and should be repealed.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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