NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Many States are Considering Tax Breaks or Vouchers

April 6, 2000

A majority of state legislatures are examining proposals this year that would allow families to use public dollars or tax breaks to help send their children to private schools, according to Education Week. Many of the proposals will not be enacted, as in past years; but observers say some of the more serious efforts will succeed.

  • Some 18 legislatures are considering proposals that would offer tax breaks to help cover the costs of private schooling.
  • Four states have tax-break programs in place for private school tuition: Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota.

At the same time, lawmakers in at least 21 states are looking at bills to start voucher programs.

  • Last summer, Florida approved the country's only statewide voucher program-- although eligibility is limited to students in low performing schools.
  • Similar legislation has been proposed in at least seven states -- California, Colorado, Georgia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Washington.
  • Two longer-running publicly funded voucher programs, though enacted by state legislatures, serve single districts -- in Cleveland and Milwaukee -- and base eligibility on family income.
  • In Michigan, "Kids First! Yes!" collected enough petition signatures for a statewide vote next November to allow vouchers for private and religious schools.

Florida students at schools that earn failing grades from the state two years out of four are eligible for vouchers that can be used at public, private and religious schools. So far, only two schools qualify, both of them in Pensacola.

Florida-style programs are different from the Cleveland and Milwaukee programs in that eligibility is linked to school performance, rather than family poverty.

"Before Florida, vouchers had not been looked at as an accountability tool," says Eric Hirsch of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Hirsch claims that "Vouchers have become less a means of helping low-income kids achieve education choice and more of a sanction aimed at turning around failing schools."

Source: Darcia Harris Bowman, "States Giving Choice Bills A Closer Look," Education Week, March 1, 2000.


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