UNITED STATES NEWS

Parents like private school vouchers so much that demand is exceeding budgets in some states

Oct 25, 2023, 7:00 PM

 

In some states, higher-income families can now use taxpayer money to cover private school tuition — and more people than projected are taking the offer, which might force scrambles to shore up state budgets.

It’s especially an issue in states like Arizona and Iowa, where at least some families whose children were already in private school can now take advantage of public funding.

“It busts the budget because it’s taking on as a public expense what’s previously been a private cost,” said Josh Cowen, an education policy professor at Michigan State University.

Advocates for school choice pitch vouchers as a way to give students in low-performing schools a way out – and, increasingly, to give parents control over what their children are taught.

Programs funded through vouchers, tax credits or scholarships have been around since the 1990s and are now available in the majority of states. Whether students who change schools with the use of taxpayer money achieve better educational outcomes is in dispute.

Initially, the programs were designed for lower-income students, but that’s changing. Since last year, nine states have adopted programs that are phasing out, eliminating or significantly raising income limits.

Four of them — Arizona, Florida, Iowa and Ohio — have reported numbers with more approved applications than expected. The states might need to come up with more money for their programs as a result.

In the remaining five, it’s too soon to tell the effect. Indiana has not released its data; Oklahoma’s system system caps total spending, Arkansas and West Virginia’s are being phased in gradually, and Utah’s does not start until next year.

Even in the states with enrollment over projections, it’s early enough in the school year that the situation is still rife with unknowns, including how many of the families approved for scholarships will use them, how much that will cost, and what lawmakers will propose to do about it.

Voucher supporters say demand exceeding expectations is not a problem.

“It’s exciting,” said Ryan Cantrell, director of government affairs at American Federation for Children, which pushes for the programs. “I think that shows that parents want this option, that lawmakers are responding to something that families want.”

Aaron Galaz said he was concerned when his son was in a southern Arizona public school previously that he was not being challenged enough academically and troubled by lessons on gender identity. So when he moved to the Phoenix area last year, he found the state’s Empowerment Scholarship Account was a way to get him into a Catholic school the family may not have been able to afford otherwise.

“I work and I pay all those taxes the same as everyone else,” he said. “We as parents can have a choice as to where those funds go.”

It’s a similar experience for Heather Stessman of Waterloo, Iowa. She said her two older sons, now in 7th and 8th grade, had a supportive community in elementary school. But in middle school, they witnessed bullying and fights daily, and her son with adaptive learning needs was not getting what he needed.

Her state has a new education savings account program — which is paying for students from families of any income to switch from public to private school and for many already in private school to remain there. Stessman said that allowed her and her husband to get their middle schoolers and kindergartener into Catholic school this year. They plan to enroll their 3-year-old, when the time comes.

“I want every kid, no matter where they go, to be able to have a good experience and to feel safe and to get a good learning education,” she said.

Opponents of the programs are bracing for lawmakers to attempt to make up for the higher costs by further cutting public school funding, even though lawmakers have not publicly threatened to do so.

“It’s extremely frustrating because cuts are inevitably going to happen,” said Beth Lewis, a former teacher who serves as executive director of Save Our Schools Arizona, which supports public schools and opposes vouchers.

In Arizona, nearly 69,000 scholarships had been awarded by Oct. 14 — a little more more than lawmakers projected for the full school year. Applications have continued rolling in.

The office of Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat who opposes the program, has projected the number of students enrolled in the program signed into law by her Republican predecessor could hit nearly 9% of the state’s students and cost about 50% more than the Republican-controlled Legislature planned for.

In an Oct. 11 report, the legislature’s budget staff said it does not yet have a clearer picture of the taxpayer cost.

But political leaders are still sparring over the program. Hobbs labelled the vouchers “unaccountable and unsustainable,” noting homeschool parents are being reimbursed for expenses including ski passes and pianos. She called on GOP officials to make changes.

State House Speaker Ben Toma, a Republican, said the state’s education budget is on pace to have a $77 million year-end budget surplus that could be used to cover overruns.

“Arizona will continue to responsibly fund students, not systems,” Toma said.

In Republican-controlled Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is pushing in a current special legislative session to bring a scholarship to a state that does not have any version of vouchers now. The latest version of the proposal would cap spending. The plans are in doubt because of opposition from Democrats and some Republicans who live in rural areas where private schools are scarce and public schools are some of the most important institutions.

In Ohio, families of all incomes are eligible for scholarships, but those with the highest incomes cannot get the maximum amount. The state so far has received nearly 85,000 applications for the funds. Applications are still rolling in, but not everyone who is approved will end up using the benefits. Still, a Columbus Dispatch analysis found the $398 million budget for the expanded grants was likely exceeded in September.

Ohio State Senate President Matt Huffman, a Republican and supporter of the vouchers, dismissed any concern about the state being able to cover the expense, which amounts to under 1% of the state’s total budget.

“There’s plenty of money there to pay for these,” he said.

___

Associated Press reporters Hannah Fingerhut in Des Moines, Iowa; Samantha Hendrickson in Columbus, Ohio; Isabella Volmert in Indianapolis, and Paul Weber in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report. Samantha Hendrickson is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

 

United States News

Associated Press

Judge rejects religious leaders’ challenge of Missouri abortion ban

A Missouri judge has rejected the argument that lawmakers intended to “impose their religious beliefs on everyone” in the state when they passed a restrictive abortion ban. Judge Jason Sengheiser issued the ruling Friday in a case filed by more than a dozen Christian, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist leaders who support abortion rights. They sought […]

16 minutes ago

Associated Press

Malfunctioning steam room sets off alarm, prompts evacuation at Rhode Island YMCA

MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (AP) — A malfunctioning steam room at a YMCA in Rhode Island pumped out so much steam that it triggered an a sprinkler system alarm on Saturday morning, prompting an evacuation. In a statement, the Middletown Police Department said officials rushed to the Newport County YMCA in Middletown around 9 a.m. for a […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Think cicadas are weird? Check out superfans, who eat the bugs, use them in art and even striptease

FOREST PARK, Illinois (AP) — Mayumi Barrack sees a pair of mating periodical cicadas getting together, whips out her phone, says, “Hi guys!” and takes their picture. “I’m not really a bug person, but as I look more and more I feel they are adorable,” Barrack explained, noting that many other creatures — birds, squirrels, […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Police in Maine cancel shelter-in-place order after explosions and fire are reported

AUBURN, Maine (AP) — Police in Maine have canceled a shelter-in-place order in the city of Auburn after reporting that an armed person was in an area where a series of explosions and a house fire erupted early Saturday. The Auburn Police Department said on Facebook that the situation had been resolved and that there […]

9 hours ago

The Supreme Court on Friday struck down a Trump-era ban on bump stocks. (Photo by George Frey/Getty...

Associated Press

Supreme Court strikes down Trump-era ban on rapid-fire rifle bump stocks, reopening political fight

The Supreme Court on Friday struck down a Trump-era ban on bump stocks, the rapid-fire gun accessories used in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

19 hours ago

Associated Press

Couple rescued from desert near California’s Joshua Tree National Park after running out of water

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A couple hiking in the desert south of Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California was rescued after running out of water, authorities said. On Sunday, the man called 911 and reported that his girlfriend was dehydrated and weak, according to a statement from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Office posted Monday […]

20 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Beat the heat, ensure your AC unit is summer-ready

With temperatures starting to rise across the Valley, now is a great time to be sure your AC unit is ready to withstand the sweltering summer heat.

...

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

Parents like private school vouchers so much that demand is exceeding budgets in some states