A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Opinion – John Schaaf: School vouchers hurting students’ academic performance

A couple of weeks ago at the State Capitol in Frankfort, a lobbying group called “EdChoice Kentucky, Inc.” organized a rally in favor of changing the state’s constitution to funnel taxpayer money into private religious schools.

Most of the people who showed up were students from Catholic and Christian schools who were bused in for the occasion. They were there to support lobbyists’ efforts to force all Kentuckians to pay tuition and expenses for students like them who are already attending private schools.

Sadly, most taxpayers were probably at work and couldn’t attend the rally to hear EdChoice’s Moe Lundrigan tout his dream for a huge and costly expansion of state government: vouchers paid for by every Kentuckian, with the voucher money flowing into the pockets of out-of-state corporate big shots and churches from the ‘hood to the holler.’

John Schaaf (Photo provided)

In a strange twist, Lundrigan argued that Kentucky should follow Indiana and Ohio in handing out massive financial subsidies to private schools. Ironically, Lundrigan’s urging comes at a time when research is showing vouchers fail to improve academic performance in the very states Lundrigan is touting.

Nearly every Indiana student is eligible for vouchers and Hoosier taxpayers are spending $1.136 billion in this budget cycle to pay private school tuition.

Unfortunately for voucher recipients and those who claim that private schools are somehow better than public schools, researchers at the University of Notre Dame studied Indiana’s costly voucher program and determined that students using vouchers were not keeping up academically with public school students.

According to the researchers, Indiana voucher students experienced an achievement loss in mathematics during their first year of attending a private school compared with students who remained in public school. That loss persisted regardless of the length of time spent in a private school. In English and other language arts, the researchers did not observe any ‘statistically meaningful’ effects for voucher recipients.

In other words, hundreds of millions of Indiana tax dollars are annually thrown at private schools that duplicate the mission of the public schools taxpayers already support, but the duplicate schools aren’t as effective as the well-established public schools.

Then there’s Ohio: different state, same sad story, as taxpayer dollars are wasted on private schools that fail to improve academics, and can actually be detrimental to students. A study published by the Fordham Institute states “The (Ohio) students who used vouchers to attend private schools fared worse on state exams compared to their closely matched peers remaining in public schools.”

Tragically, these are not one-off stories, but part of a growing consensus in research on mediocre academic performance in taxpayer-funded private schools. A study of Louisiana’s voucher program failure may show the worst academic non-performance.

Published in the American Economic Journal, the Louisiana study found that participation in the voucher plan “lowers math scores… and also reduces achievement in reading, science, and social studies.”

Education and economic research into the impact of tax-funded vouchers is showing that the programs are not working. Private school lobbyists who promised pie-in-the-sky improvements have over-promised, private schools are underperforming, and taxpayers are being cheated.

Kentucky’s strong constitutional language has protected taxpayers from lobbyists who want dollars taken from working Kentuckians and diverted to church and business-run schools that would be unaccountable for their poor performance.

Without accountability, it takes years for families to realize that voucher schools failed to give their children a quality education. Kentucky should not let lobbyists lead the state into the same dismal academic and financial swamp that Indiana and Ohio are wallowing in.

John Schaaf is an attorney and co-author of “The Hidden History of Kentucky Political Scandals.” His email address is John.Schaaf1975@gmail.com

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One Comment

  1. W. Jamie Ruehl says:

    I don’t blame parents of school age children, who saw how bureaucratic and over-reactionary the public schools were during the pandemic.
    The tax dollars that were wasted by our public schools and the high amount of justification and or blaming our government officials displayed are good reasons to exit the public schools and ask for our tax dollars back.
    Vouchers may or may not accomplish that well. But we all know for certain: The public schools failed our children in 2021 and 2022.

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