Today, the Friedman Foundation released a one-of-a-kind fiscal assessment that covers the operational life spans of school voucher programs. What fiscal effects do vouchers have on states, schools, and taxpayers?
In it, Jeff Spalding, our director of fiscal policy and analysis, addressed the following questions:
-What is the proper way to measure school vouchers' fiscal impact?
-Why are the fiscal effects of voucher programs so often misunderstood?
-What are the annual and long-term fiscal impacts of school vouchers?
The School Voucher Audit: Do Publicly Funded Private School Choice Programs Save Money?
Do Publicly Funded Private School Choice
Programs Save Money?
School choice advocates have always used
the savings potential of vouchers as a
positive selling point.
Since the creation of the first voucher
program in 1990, six studies have examined
the fiscal impact of school choice on
All six show school choice saves money for
taxpayers. None found a negative impact.
But still, that wealth of evidence hasn’t
stopped school choice opponents from
“Myth 1: Vouchers save money”
-National Education Association
“Vouchers do not save taxpayer money”
-Americans United for Separation
of Church and State
“MYTH: Vouchers save taxpayers money”
-Education Voters of Pennsylvania
So what is getting lost in translation?
Our Director of Fiscal Policy and Analysis...
• Former Controller/Chief Financial
Officer for the City of Indianapolis
• Two-time Fantasy Football Champion
• Elton John Enthusiast
• Roger Federer Fan
• Dad of sixth-grader Elly
...not only examined the fiscal impact of voucher programs...
Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program | Louisiana
Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program | Georgia
Educational Choice Scholarship Program | Ohio
Carson Smith Special Needs Scholarship Program | Utah
Opportunity Scholarship Program | Washington, D.C.
Autism Scholarship Program | Ohio
Opportunity Scholarship Program | Florida
Cleveland Scholarship Program | Ohio
Milwaukee Parental Choice Program | Wisconsin
John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program | Florida
...he also walks through how he made each
calculation for full transparency.
To make sense of a calculation,
first you’ve got to understand
what you’re calculating.
After all, the numbers alone don’t indicate
whether an outcome is good or bad.
10 4 6
Opponents claim, simplistically, that school choice
drains money from the public school system.
I do not support vouchers.
And the reason I don’t is
because I don’t think we
can afford to siphon dollars
away from our underfunded
That rhetoric obscures an important fact:
A public school is also relieved of
the cost burden for any student
switching to private school.
$ • speech therapy
• remedial reading specialist
• all other standard
By not acknowledging such variable cost
savings, opponents implicitly argue that
all public school costs are “fixed.”
By that logic: If costs don’t go down when
a public school’s enrollment declines...
...costs wouldn’t go up when a public school’s
One could argue school choice opponents
basically say the relationship between funding
and costs for instructing students looks like this:
In actuality, the relationship between funding
and costs looks more like this.
For a voucher program to result in savings,
this must be true:
from Public School
To determine whether that is the case for a
voucher program, use this equation:
( Public School Cost Per Student
Number of Voucher Students ( Voucher Amount
Number of Voucher Students TOTAL NET SAVINGS
Those funds are most commonly captured
by either the public school districts or the
state treasury, which can use them to:
1. invest in public schools,
2. invest in other priorities such as
law enforcement or healthcare,
3. lower total state spending,
4. build reserves, and/or
5. lower taxes
In fairness, however, some kids who use
vouchers are not diverted from public
schools. That is, they maybe could have
attended private school without a voucher.
But if a family’s financial hardship and
inability to get a voucher were to cause
parents to withdraw from private schools...
...already cash-strapped public
schools would be hit with the financial
responsibility of adding those kids to
classrooms and funding their education.
With that in mind, wonder how much
more voucher programs could be saving?
If vouchers would have been available to keep
private school enrollment steady from 1985 to
2010, our country could have saved
What has the U.S. education system accomplished instead?
Additional Cost of Total U.S. Enrollment Shift to Public Schools
Private School Share of K-12 Enrollment
$222 billion cumulative additional
cost for public schools, over 25 years,
because of erosion in the private
school enrollment share
If these numbers piqued your interest,
check out individual program breakdowns
and more in the full report at