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Monday, February 27, 2017

Private School Vouchers Don't Mean More Kids for Private Schools

State Sen Matt Huffman, R-Lima, introduced legislation recently to create statewide vouchers for any family who meets at least 400% of poverty (for a family of four, that's about $100,000, or roughly 81% of Ohio families).

I have always had serious constitutional concerns about Huffman's plan, as I've enumerated on several occasions.

In a nutshell, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Cleveland's voucher program did not violate the Establishment Clause in 2002 because it was small in scope and scale (about $7 million) and was designed to "rescue" kids from "failing schools". However, now the program reaches nearly every school district in the state, including districts that cannot be argued to be "failing" kids. And it's approaching a $250 million program that would be available to more than 80% of Ohio's school children under Huffman's bill.

Aside from this concern, however, is the fascinating fact that since Ohio started funding private, mostly religious school vouchers in 1995-1996, enrollment in private schools has plummeted by nearly 30% to a 40-year low.

In fact, as a percentage of public school enrollment (including charters), private school enrollment is now as small as it's ever been -- less than 10% from a high of more than 13% in the mid-1990s.

What does this mean for Huffman's bill? I don't know. But what the data show pretty convincingly is the more vouchers parents have at their disposal, the fewer students become enrolled in private, mostly religious schools.

Which begs the question: Have vouchers helped maintain private, mostly religious schools' survival, or have they actually hurt private school enrollment?

Only time will tell. But it's fairly clear that if Sen. Huffman is trying to save Ohio's private, mostly religious schools, increased numbers of vouchers do not appear to do the trick.

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