Think Tank Addresses School Choice Spending Concerns

School Choice Concept
School Choice Concept | Image by BrianAJackson/Getty Images

A new report published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute makes the case that people who feel skeptical of school choice policies over the potential taxpayer costs need to be especially concerned.

Written by Michael J. Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, the report argues that school choice can be implemented in a fiscally responsible manner.

“[W]hen the government starts to subsidize students already enrolled in private schools, it’s effectively a brand-new public expense. Those kids weren’t already attending school with taxpayer assistance. And with about 9 percent of students in most states attending private schools — and those children coming disproportionately from wealthy families — adding them to the public rolls can add up fast,” Petrilli wrote.

He went on to suggest the school choice legislation adopted in Ohio last summer checks against some of the added taxpayer spending by establishing a sliding scale by which families are allocated taxpayer-funded scholarships based on income. Families that earn up to $135,000 are eligible to receive full scholarship amounts. The scholarship levels decrease as income grows.

“Oklahoma also uses a sliding scale for its private school choice program, and the pending bill in Louisiana would do the same. Other states should follow suit,” Petrilli wrote. “Conservative lawmakers can still move toward universal school choice, but by using a sliding scale, they can avoid blowing big holes in state budgets, while also fending off the charge that they’re giving juicy windfalls to the rich, replacing private tuition dollars, with public and introducing a new sort of unfairness.”

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, several states adopted or expanded school choice policies last year, enabling more families to use taxpayer money to pay for educational alternatives to public schools.

In Texas, school choice legislation stalled in the House after a coalition of Democrats and anti-school choice Republicans killed an education spending bill that would have established taxpayer-funded education savings accounts for families. Gov. Greg Abbott, a big supporter of school choice, reacted to the policy’s failure to advance by endorsing the primary challengers of the Republicans who helped kill the bill. Many of the governor’s picks won outright, while some races are headed to a run-off election in May, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

Polling shows broad support for some kind of school choice legislation across most demographics in the Lone Star State. The support may be partly a result of the lackluster student achievement outcomes being logged in many of Texas’ public school systems.

Dallas ISD, for example, underperformed across several metrics, according to its latest accountability report by the Texas Education Agency. Only 41% of students scored at grade level on their STAAR exams despite the hard work of the district’s dedicated teachers, and almost 20% of the district’s graduating Class of 2022 did not earn a diploma in four years.

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