Setting the Record Straight on Florida’s Tax-Credit Scholarships

August 30, 2016

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(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Opponents of school choice spend a great deal of time and energy perpetuating all sorts of easily debunked myths about choice programs. In Florida, the state teachers’ union has worked very hard to spread two such myths about the state’s tax-credit scholarship program, which Mark Pudlow of the Florida Education Association calls a “scheme”:

“It’s a scheme because this tax credit voucher [sic] was enacted by the Legislature to circumvent a previous state Supreme Court ruling saying that public money could not go to fund vouchers,” he said. “So the Legislature set up a scheme that would allow certain types of taxes to be ‘donated’ to the groups administering the voucher program. So instead of paying taxes to the state, they were forgiven their tax obligation if they donated the exact same amount of money to the voucher administrators.”

Fortunately, the Daily Commercial gave Ron Matus of Step Up for Students, Florida’s largest scholarship organization, the opportunity to set the record straight:

“The union kept saying the tax credit scholarships were done to circumvent the ruling,” he said. “Their timeline is off. The fact of the matter is the tax credit scholarship program was passed by the legislature and signed into law in 2001, five years before the Supreme Court ruling. The opponent keeps arguing the program drains money from public schools. Every single study that has been done over many years by multiple different parties that has looked at the fiscal impact says it does not harm public schools or drain money from public schools.”

The Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability estimated the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program saved the state $36.2 million in 2008.

Government Accountability stated that while the program “reduces the amount of tax revenues received by the state, it produces a net fiscal benefit.”

This academic year, Step Up for Students will provide more than 90,000 tax-credit scholarships to students so that they can attend the school of their choice. Additionally, they will administer nearly 6,000 education savings accounts. Florida also has a second scholarship organization, AAA Scholarship Foundation, so it’s likely that more than 100,000 Florida students will receive tax-credit scholarships this year.

As Step Up demonstrates, scholarship organizations do much more than just cut checks. They also can provide parents with vital information about their educational options, help connect parents and schools, and–when necessary–they can organize to defend the scholarships from outside attacks. As Jay noted in a recent post, politically viable policies require “constituents who can then be mobilized to protect and expand” them. School choice policies generate those constituents, and as Step Up has amply demonstrated, scholarship organizations can mobilize them.

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Florida Legislature proposes ESA funding and eligibility expansion, NVESA wonkathon is west bound and down!

June 16, 2015

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Travis Pillow over at RedefinED has details on the Florida special session budget process proposal for expanding funding and eligibility for Florida’s ESA program. Looking good Billy Ray!

Meanwhile NV ESA wonkathon is loaded up and truckin! New entries from Jonathan Butcher, Tracey Weinstein and Andy Smarick today. Each piece makes important points in my view.

Butcher (quite rightly) warns of the dangers of over-regulation and unintended consequences. Sith lord enforcers overly empowered bureaucrats will inevitably find your lack of faith in their benevolent wisdom…disturbing.

Weinstein raises equity concerns. She has a map (!) showing that Nevada’s modest pre-existing private school infrastructure tends to be clustered in well-to-do areas. Those experimenting with high-quality low-cost private school models-I’m looking directly at you Christo Rey, Acton and Notre Dame ACE Academies- we are firing up the signal!

And you bring something nice to wear…

Seriously though I hope we will see deeply committed efforts to expand the supply of options for disadvantaged children. Seth Rau raised the possibility of using the tax credit program to enhance the buying power of low-income students, which ought to be viewed in a benign fashion so long as the total amount of aid does not exceed the average spending per pupil. In the absence of these programs however, new private school efforts for low-income areas were terribly unlikely. I expect future wonkathon posts to raise additional equity concerns. These deserve careful consideration, especially if the trailer park schools with substitute teachers don’t happen to cluster in the leafy suburbs. The program does provide more funding for low-income children, but I view it as a perfectly legit topic for further discussion as to what level those funding differences ought to be set. This is a question upon which Nevada legislators must deliberate and decide on an ongoing basis.

Andy Smarick sounds a note of Burkean caution:

My bigger worry, though, relates to the rapidity and expanse of possible changes. Fast, fundamental change of longstanding institutions is generally hazardous. What we have today (in education and elsewhere) is the result of trial-and-error processes played out over generations. It is never perfect, but it is robust, and it often possesses wisdom.

I actually don’t expect rapid change. The supply of private school seats will start off quite limited, and our experience with private choice programs shows consistent incremental take-up rates. This program has more allowable uses and broader eligibility than most, but even so we have no reason to expect a blast furnace of participation in the early years. Funded eligibility creating a credible exit option will be crucial, the rate at which parents choose to exercise that option- not as much.

The McKay Scholarship program has been contributing to substantial public school gains among public school special needs children since 2001. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest that only 7% of Florida special needs students directly utilize the program, or that there are more special needs students in Florida public schools today than when the program passed in 1999, more people working in the schools etc. Color me blissfully unconcerned so long as the parents who have their children in the public schools are there by choice- meaning they had other options. Constraints on the supply of private school space just makes it all the better that Florida lawmakers have made ESAs available as well.

 

 


Florida Creates the Nation’s Second Account Based K-12 Choice Program

May 2, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Florida legislature has passed the nation’s second account based choice program- known as the Florida Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts.  Florida students with disabilities, including those in public, private and home schools can apply to the program, which has multiple allowable uses including private school tuition, therapies, digital learning, curriculum and prepaid college savings. The program will be administered through the preexisting scholarship groups but will be state funded, receiving a $18.4 million appropriation.

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Arizona originated scholarship tax credits and Floridians have documented evidence of the effectiveness of the concept for both participant and competitive effects.   Account based choice programs also originated in Arizona, and the race is now on to see which state can best prove out the concept.  Congratulations to choice advocates in the Sunshine State- and welcome to the party!

Who’s next?