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Why Private Schools Are Opting Out of Voucher Programs

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Concerns about too much regulation and maintaining independence are the primary reasons private schools choose not to participate in school voucher or tax-credit scholarship programs, according to a new report.

Researchers from the University of Arkansas surveyed around 950 private school leaders in Florida, Indiana, and Louisiana about their attitudes toward private school choice programs. The study was done on behalf of the conservative leaning, Washington-based think tank, American Enterprise Institute.

Private school tuition vouchers are provided by some states to eligible students (generally students with disabilties or from low-income families) and funded by tax dollars. Tax-credit scholarship programs allow businesses or individuals to claim tax credits for donations made to state-approved organizations, which then give money to eligible students to use toward tuition at private schools.

About one-third of private schools in Florida don't participate in the state's tax-credit scholarship program, about half choose not to participate in Indiana's voucher program, and around two-thirds have opted out of Louisiana's voucher program, the survey found. 

Of the Florida schools not participating in the state's private school choice program, more than a quarter of their leaders said they didn't know the tax-credit scholarships existed.

Among the survey's other findings:

  • Forty-one percent of nonparticipating school leaders in Florida said they plan to participate the following year, while only 20 percent in Indiana and eight percent in Louisiana said so;
  • Five percent of participating Indiana schools and 10 percent of Florida schools had to turn away students because there was too much demand, while 38 percent of participating Louisiana schools had to turn away students for the same reason;
  • Seventy-one percent of private school leaders said serving disadvantaged children was the primary reason they decided to participate in a private school choice program;
  • In general, participating schools currently enroll more voucher or scholarship students than when they first joined the programs. Louisiana has had the most modest growth in participation as well as the most schools opting to decrease enrollment;
  • Sixty percent of participating Florida and Indiana private school officials say they want to expand the number of spots they have for voucher students next year, while in Louisiana only about a quarter of school leaders plan to increase enrollment.

The biggest concerns that participating private school leaders in Indiana and Louisiana had about the programs in their states were stricter regulations being introduced in the future and the amount of paperwork required to participate. In Florida, the top concern is the stability and longevity of the program. A lawsuit challenging whether Florida's tax-credit scholarships are legal is currently making its way through the state's courts.

The report makes a series of policy recommendations based on the survey findings. You can read those full recommendations in the report here.

The findings from this AEI report differ from another, similar report released by the Fordham Foundation in 2013.

Related:

What Voucher Advocates Can Learn From the Charter School Movement

How Does Florida's Expanded Tax Credit Scholarship Law Compare Nationally?

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