School Voucher Bills Seek To Defund and Privatize Public Schools

ECONOMIC POLICY INSTITUTE, Nina Mast, April 26, 2023

As momentum builds around efforts to divert public funds to private schools, lawmakers and advocates should recommit to opposing harmful voucher bills and supporting greater investment in public education.

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce held a congressional hearing on voucher expansion featuring three voucher advocates and one opponent. The hearing comes amid an intense, coordinated push this year by anti-public school advocates who have long sought to privatize public education, in part through state-level efforts to enact private school voucher programs in state legislatures across the country.

School vouchers—which include traditional private school subsidies, Education Savings Accounts, and private school tuition tax credits—are diversions of public funds to private and religious schools. Efforts to implement and expand voucher programs in states across the country are key to the relentless and enduring campaign to defund and then privatize public education, a movement that also includes manufacturing mistrust in public schools and targeting educators and their unions.

Types of vouchers:

  • Traditional vouchers: The government writes a check to subsidize tuition at private schools using funding collected through taxes.
  • Education Savings Account (ESA) vouchers: Instead of paying private schools directly, public funds are deposited into savings accounts that families can use to pay for private schools.
  • Tax credit vouchers: Individuals or businesses receive a tax credit in exchange for “donations” to organizations that provide vouchers for private school tuition. As a result, government tax revenue is rerouted to private organizations.

Despite overwhelming evidence of the harms of voucher programs and the unpopularity of attacks on public education, right-wing anti-education privatization advocates have prioritized the creation or expansion of school voucher programs as a policy goal this year in statehouses across the country. As of March 2023, public education advocates are tracking voucher bills in at least 24 states. As of mid-April, universal voucher bills—which will allow all families, regardless of income, to use public funds to pay for private education—have passed in four states: Iowa, Utah, Arkansas, and Florida. Meanwhile, voucher expansion bills have failed in at least six states so far in 2023: Georgia, Texas, IdahoVirginiaKentucky, and South Dakota.

Given the renewed push for state school voucher legislation and the certainty of continued attacks on public education, policymakers and advocates must renew their efforts to oppose vouchers in every form and fulfill states’ constitutional mandate of universal, high-quality public education.