Florida school choice helps public schools

In Florida, a tax credit program that funds scholarships that allow students to attend private schools helps everyone, even those who stay in public schools, according to a study by EducationNext, a project of Stanford University.

Tax credit programs are often derided by the government school establishment as just a way to let rich families get credit for expensive private school tuition. But in Florida, three-fourths of the students that participate are black or Hispanic, and 60 percent are from single parent homes. The Florida scholarships are worth between $3,950 and $4,100, which is just about the same as base state aid per pupil spending by the State of Kansas, currently $4,012. Adjustments and weightings, however, usually increase that number for most school districts.

While government school advocates argue that education is not like business in that schools don’t respond to economic incentives, in real life that is not the case: “One popular argument for expanding private school choice is that public schools will improve their own performance when faced with competition for students. Because state school funding is tied to student enrollment, losing students to private schools means losing revenue. The threat of losing students to private schools may give schools greater incentive to cultivate parental satisfaction by operating more efficiently and improving the outcomes valued by students and parents.”

There is a risk, however, that school choice programs may draw away the “most involved families” from public schools. This is really an argumant for not artificially limiting the number os scholarships that may be awarded, as do most states.

The conclusion of the study is shocking: “Our results indicate that the increased competitive pressure public schools faced following the introduction of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program led to general improvements in their performance. Both expanded access to private school options and greater variety of options that students have in terms of the religious (or secular) affiliations of private schools are positively associated with public-school students’ test scores following the introduction of the FTC program. The gains occur immediately, before any students leave the public schools with a scholarship, implying that competitive threats are responsible for at least some of the estimated effects.

Competition works, in other words.

Applying the lesson to Kansas

Kansas is far behind the rest of the nation in school choice and even in charter schools, which are a mild form of school choice. Government school spending advocates, which in Kansas are most prominently the Kansas National Education Association (KNEA, the teachers union) and the Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB), work hard and spend great sums of money to stop school choice and the improvements it brings from spreading to Kansas.

Incoming governor Sam Brownback‘s key education initiative is revising the school finance formula. This is not likely to improve the lot of Kansas schoolchildren, although it may help out taxpayers. Recently I wrote: “The danger over the next few years is that Kansas will waste its time fussing over a school financing formula that, in the end, still funds a government school monopoly at the exclusion of choice, even the mildest form of choice: charter schools. Consequently Kansas misses out on the improvement and diversity that choice brings.”


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