More States Issuing Private School Vouchers with Public Money

As dissatisfaction with public education in America continues to grow, there has been a significant surge in efforts this year to allocate public funds to support private schools.

Republican governors in Texas and Florida have been behind the most recent initiatives.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott takes the matter so seriously that he has threatened to campaign against fellow Republican state legislators who don’t support the cause. However, Abbott has faced a rocky road thus far.

The Texas Legislature is nearing the end of a third special session. Abbott called the session aiming to pass a bill that would create “Educational Savings Accounts” that parents could use to partly pay private school tuition. Abbott has tried to sweeten the deal several times by increasing state funding for all public schools.

Despite this, the bill’s odds of passing in the session’s final days appeared slim. Abbott has vowed to keep calling lawmakers back to session until they approve his bill. However, It remains unclear whether the next session will occur later this year or the following year.

Unusual Allies?

While a bill cleared the Texas Senate a while back, its Democratic opponents in the House have found an unusual ally: rural Texans who typically lean Republican. Texas is geographically larger than some European countries. Most rural Texans would face a 30- to 40-mile drive to the nearest private school. 

Even if they could afford that daily commute, they would have to dig into their own pockets to pay the rest of the tuition bill not covered by the state-issued vouchers.

Perhaps more significantly, public schools are the lifeblood of many rural Texas communities. They are often an area’s largest employer, a form of community identity, and the center of civic life.

Still, Abbott has vowed to call a fourth special session.

Expanding Income Eligibility

In Florida, Republican Governor and presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis seized an issue popular with his conservative base. Last year, he successfully pushed for a bill that expanded vouchers. The bill abolished the program’s income requirements.

Effective this school year, all students are eligible regardless of income, though poorer students are still prioritized if demand exceeds supply. If elected president, DeSantis has said he would “nationalize” Florida’s “universal school choice” model.

Such a program would “liberate” children from low-performing urban schools, DeSantis told Florida Politics.

Florida and Texas are two of at least 10 states that expanded their voucher programs in 2023, a “landmark year for school-choice battles,” according to the Associated Press.

Also leaning harder into the trend this year have been the largely red states of Arizona, Idaho, Indiana, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Utah, as reported by Chalkboard News.

Indiana Setting Voucher Pace

In Indiana, which has offered the vouchers for 12 years, participation in the program reached an all-time high this year. Nearly 5% of Indiana students make use of the vouchers. That’s expected to grow even more in 2024 under a 2023 bill passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed into law by GOP Gov. Eric Holcomb.

Like in Florida, the new Indiana law raises income limits for eligible families. Families in Indiana also no longer need to meet one of eight eligibility requirements, such as previous enrollment in a public school.

Small Share but Growing

Less than 1% of U.S. students attend schools with vouchers, according to EdChoice. Nevertheless, the numbers are growing.

There are 310,770 U.S. students using vouchers. This represents a 56% increase from the 198,936 students utilizing them in 2019, the final full year before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

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This article was produced by TPR Teaching. Featured image: Andrew Cline//Shutterstock.com.

Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.

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