A Flood of New Wichita Public School Students: The Other Story

In a letter to the editor in the August 28, 2008 Wichita Eagle, Wichitan Frank LaForge makes the case for voting for the Wichita school bond issue in 2008. While doing this he inadvertently makes the case for widespread school choice in Kansas and Wichita.

Mr. LaForge writes that if the parents of children attending Catholic or other parochial schools in Wichita were to suddenly realize that they could send their children to the Wichita public schools that they already support with their taxes, and they did so, what would happen to taxes in USD 259? Taxes would go up, he writes.

What Mr. LaForge may not realize is the flip side of the argument he makes: if Wichita public school students leave district schools to attend parochial or private schools, expenditures on public schools — and hopefully taxes — would decline. This is the case even when school choice is enabled through vouchers or tax credits.

Recently the The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the study School Choice by the Numbers: The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs, 1990-2006. A few relevant excerpts:

This study calculates the fiscal impact of every existing voucher and tax-credit scholarship program, in order to bring empirical evidence to bear on the debate over the fiscal impact of school choice.

School choice programs have saved a total of about $444 million from 1990 to 2006, including a total of $22 million saved in state budgets and $422 million saved in local public school districts.

Every existing school choice program is at least fiscally neutral, and most produce a substantial savings.

In nearly every school choice program, the dollar value of the voucher or scholarship is less than or equal to the state’s formula spending per student. This means states are spending the same amount or less on students in school choice programs than they would have spent on the same students if they had attended public schools, producing a fiscal savings.

When a student uses school choice, the local public school district no longer needs to pay the instructional costs associated with that student, but it does not lose all of its per-student revenue, because some revenue does not vary with enrollment levels. Thus, school choice produces a positive fiscal impact for school districts as well as for state budgets.

The article Will the Wichita Public School District Consider This Method of Reducing School Overcrowding? examines the effect of school choice on the Wichita school district and concludes, as does the Friedman Foundation study, that money available on a per-student increases as some students select other school alternatives.

This is especially important now, as one of the reasons given for the need for the proposed school bond issue is to reduce overcrowding in some schools, and to reduce class size overall. School choice programs could provide the solution to both problems without more spending and a bond issue.

The State of Kansas and the Wichita school district, however, will not consider these alternatives. Beholden to the special interests of the education lobby and the teachers union, neither body will consider solutions except those that increase the size of — and spending on — public schools.


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