Opponents of educational choice in Kentucky are apparently doubling down on their disproven, discredited and downright disgraceful claims about simply letting parents pick the schools they think are best for their children. Bruce Maples’ recent column is a case in point.
At issue is a proposed Kentucky tax-credit scholarship program.
Arizona was the first state to enact such a program back in 1997. Today there are 23 tax-credit scholarship programs in 18 states — including Illinois, Indiana and Virginia. Altogether these programs are helping more than 273,000 students who are from low- and moderate-income families, have special needs or are from the foster-care system. Absent tax-credit scholarship programs, these students would be stuck in schools that just don’t work for them.
Maples, however, insists that programs like these are just “a scam for the wealthy.”
On the contrary: the real scam is spending over $8.5 billion annually on the state’s public-schooling system, where stunning majorities of students are not proficient in the basics. Consider eighth grade math. Less than one out of three white students and less than one out of 10 black students is proficient. What about eighth grade reading? Just 37 percent of white students and less than one out of five black students is proficient.
For perspective. these black/white performance gaps are roughly equivalent to two school years in reading and three school years in math. What’s more, those gaps are virtually unchanged from 20 years ago.
An even bigger scam is what schooling in Kentucky would look like if we followed Maples’ claims against educational choice to their logical conclusion.
He insists that educational choice drains money from public schools. By that logic, all Kentucky parents should be required to send their children to assigned district public schools based on their current zip codes. Parents would not be allowed to move their families out of district, much less out of state, until their children graduated high school — because moving means draining their local public schools.
Of course, educational choice opponents like Maples don’t dare suggest such a draconian policy. Nor do they mention another inconvenient fact: when a student leaves a public school, that school is relieved of the costs associated with educating that student.
Still, opponents push their “draining” myth, which has been disproven by 27 empirical studies showing that educational choice programs actually save money. In fact, no scientific study has ever found that a choice program hurts public schools financially.
Adding to that body of evidence is a new analysis of tax-credit scholarship programs, which found that they save state and local taxpayers between $1,650 and $3,000 per scholarship student. Altogether, tax-credit scholarship programs have generated savings worth between $2 million and $223 million for their states.
Since the costs of funding scholarships are usually lower than the costs of educating students in public schools, states with tax-credit scholarship programs realize a net savings — savings that can be used to increase public-school funding.
But there’s another whopping fallacy in Maples’ argument. Like most educational choice opponents, Maples assumes that citizens’ earnings automatically belong to the government. So, when they claim tax credits for charitable donations, donors are in effect stealing from the state General Fund and public schools.
This assumption is ludicrous on its face, and the U.S. Supreme Court said as much in its 2011 majority ruling upholding the constitutionality of Arizona’s flagship tax-credit scholarship program. As Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority:
When Arizona taxpayers choose to contribute to STOs [School Tuition Organizations], they spend their own money, not money the State has collected from respondents or from other taxpayers. …Like contributions that lead to charitable tax deductions, contributions yielding STO tax credits are not owed to the State and, in fact, pass directly from taxpayers to private organizations. [The ACLU’s] contrary position assumes that income should be treated as if it were government property even if it has not come into the tax collector’s hands. That premise finds no basis in standing jurisprudence. [Emphasis added.]
For all of Maples’ inventive, name-calling and blather about vast right-wing conspiracies, the scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports educational choice.
Just-released research from the Urban Institute, for example, shows low-income students participating in Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program — the country’s largest — have higher college enrollment and completion rates than their public-school peers.
These findings add to the preponderance of scientific literature showing students participating in choice programs have better academic achievement and outcomes, including higher rates of high-school graduation, college enrollment and completion, as well as higher levels of civic engagement and toleration. Educational choice also has positive effects on school safety and students’ long-term mental health.
Public-school students who don’t participate in educational choice programs also benefit.
Of the 34 studies conducted on the effects of educational choice on public schools, 32 found positive effects, and two found neutral effects. No scientific study has ever demonstrated negative impacts.
Likewise, nine out of 10 studies to date on the effects of educational choice on racial integration found positive effects, and one found no effect. Again, no scientific study has ever demonstrated negative effects on racial integration from educational choice.
No wonder a solid majority of Kentucky voters across the political and socioeconomic spectrum support tax-credit scholarships. And perhaps that’s what really has Maples so miffed.
– Vicki Alger, Ph.D., is a Visiting Fellow with the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s first and only free-market think tank. She’s also a Senior Fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum in Washington, D.C., and a Research Fellow with the Independent Institute in Oakland, California.