New Report Documents Explosive Growth in Private School Voucher Spending
PFPS Research Report by Samuel E. Abrams and Steven J. Koutsavlis Shows Billions of Public Dollars Diverted to Private Education Each Year
A report released today by Public Funds Public Schools, a project of Education Law Center (ELC) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), documents the massive increase in public spending on private education voucher programs in the decade following the Great Recession.
The report, The Fiscal Consequences of Private School Vouchers, examines the growth in voucher programs and spending in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and Wisconsin from fiscal year 2008 through fiscal year 2019. For comparison, the report provides data for per-pupil expenditures on public education in inflation-adjusted dollars for these seven states, as well as the nation’s forty-three other states, over this same period.
“With the surge in funding for voucher programs in these seven states and the implementation of similar voucher programs in many others, the trend is unmistakable and cause for great concern,” said Samuel E. Abrams, co-author of the report and Director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. “It is accordingly crucial that we record and study these developments.”
Key findings of the report include:
- In each of the seven states highlighted, expenditures of public funds on voucher programs increased dramatically from 2008 to 2019, with growth in voucher spending in Georgia reaching 883 percent.
- Florida leads the pack in voucher spending levels, but nearly all the states examined were diverting hundreds of millions of dollars to voucher programs annually by the end of the period studied.
- At the same time funding for vouchers climbed significantly in these seven states, the portion of state gross domestic product (GDP) allocated to K-12 public education decreased, even though public school enrollment grew over the same period in five of the seven states.
“The last thing students in these states need is money leaving their already underfunded public schools and going to pay for private education,” said Mary McKillip, ELC Senior Researcher. “We will continue to carefully track voucher spending growth in these and other states as education privatization continues to be an enormous threat.”
A 2021 report published by ELC, SPLC, and Public Funds Public Schools highlighted the severity of public school underfunding in the Deep South, including data that showed Florida and Mississippi spend about $4000 less per pupil per year than the national average.
“It is crucial for policymakers and the public to understand the deep effects of voucher programs on our state budgets, especially as they consider expanding these programs even further,” said Bacardi Jackson, Interim Deputy Legal Director for Children’s Rights at the SPLC. “States like Florida and Arizona demonstrate that the clear objective is to massively increase funding for voucher programs, without heeding their detrimental effects on students, families, and communities. Public schools educate, and likely will continue to educate, most of our nation’s children. And, in the five states in which SPLC operates, one in three of those students is Black, one in five lives below the poverty line, and more than half are eligible for free and reduced lunch, making the systematic defunding of public schools a racial and economic justice crisis.”
“This report throws into stark relief a fact that education privatizers want to hide: the fiscal consequences of private school voucher programs are substantial, and these state expenditures are growing at a precipitous pace,” said Jessica Levin, Deputy Litigation Director at Education Law Center and Director of PFPS. “This trend is remarkable given the evidence showing that vouchers negatively affect academics, school integration, and civil rights. If states do not rein in voucher spending and increase spending on evidence-based public education measures, the consequences for students across the nation will be severe.”
The report includes the history of each state’s voucher program(s) and current voucher enrollment, the growth in expenditures on vouchers from 2008 to 2019 in inflation-adjusted dollars, the change in state GDP over that time, and each state's effort to fund education relative to the effort of other states over this period. Detailed charts and appendices provide year-by-year data on spending for every voucher program in each state, detailing the dramatic growth in the flow of public money to these private education expenditures.
For a state-by-state analysis of school funding in these and other states, see Education Law Center’s Making the Grade 2022: How Fair is School Funding in Your State?