School Choice Programs in Private Schools

Vol. 14 No. 9

trustees eletter Vol14 No9 vouchers

In a previous issue of The Source for Trustees, we discussed the caveats of private school vouchers. Further research supports ISM’s position—that private schools should not look to government vouchers to balance their budgets or address enrollment issues.

Last year, a report from the American Enterprise Institute, Views from Private Schools: Attitudes about School Choice Programs in Three States, focused on choice programs in Florida, Indiana, and Louisiana. Let’s pull out some of the research results relevant to our discussion.

In all three states, participating schools saw choice programs as “an opportunity to provide a religious learning environment, provide additional revenue for school operations, and increase racial and socioeconomic.” It’s not then surprising that most schools taking part in choice programs are Catholic schools that have suffered falling enrollment.

The researchers surveyed 954 school leaders in private schools receiving government-funded vouchers and scholarships. The top five concerns are similar in all three states.

Florida

  1. Concerns that the scholarship program will end
  2. Concerns that the voucher will not increase with increasing costs
  3. Future regulations that might come with participation
  4. Scholarship is not adequate to cover the per-pupil costs
  5. Parental involvement of scholarship families

Indiana

  1. Future regulations that might come with participation
  2. The amount of required paperwork and reports
  3. Concerns that the scholarship program will end
  4. Students might not be prepared for our academic rigor
  5. Concerns that the voucher will not increase with increasing costs

Louisiana

  1. Future regulations that might come with participation
  2. The amount of required paperwork and reports
  3. Students might not be prepared for our academic rigor
  4. Parental involvement of scholarship families
  5. Concerns about administering the state accountability test

Clearly, the chief concerns involve the fears of future financial issues and increased government regulation and intervention—ISM’s major oppositions to choice programs. In fact, when asked if current scholarship amounts were adequate, school leaders overwhelming reported that they were not—the average tuition in participating schools in all three states was higher. Also of interest, a survey of those school leaders who decided not to take part in choice programs mirrored much of the same concerns.

Consider also the concern that students may not be prepared for a school’s academic program. A recent report about the Louisiana voucher program, based on a lottery system for selecting students, found the lottery winners’ test scores plummeted their first year in private education. Accommodating disadvantaged students in a private school culture is not easy, and schools may have to change their curriculum—even their missions—to do so.

The Justice Department has also tried to squash voucher programs in the past, based on desegregation orders and the legality of sending public funds to private schools. The DOJ brought suit against the Louisiana voucher program in 2013, but subsequently dropped the suit. If the suit had been successful, about 8,000 students in the program would have no longer received the funding to attend private schools. And those schools dependent on that funding would have faced a financial catastrophe!

At the end of their report, the researchers recommended ways the government can improve choice programs. But clearly taking part in government choice programs is fraught with dangers. Such programs may enhance a school’s diversity and enrollment, but the downside (especially concerning finances) may negate any of those positives. To reiterate our conclusion from the previous article: “Government funding is unlikely ever to become the solution to any issue faced by private-independent schools.” ISM stands by that statement.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Trustees Vol. 14 No. 4 The Caveats of Private School Vouchers
Whitepaper: Full Steam Ahead: Part 2 (Cutting-Edge Research and Opinion for Excellent Independent Schools)

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 34 No. 16 Baker’s Study of Vouchers: Implications for Private-Independent Schools
Research: Assessing the Effectiveness of School Voucher Programs

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