Senior Research Analyst
School choice programs can be generally divided into two areas: public and private. Public school choice programs involve public funding and public schools, such as charter schools. Private school choice programs involve public funding and private schools, including school voucher (vouchers), tax credit scholarship (TCS), and education savings account (ESA) programs. This article reviews only private school choice programs.
Vouchers are often used by states to offer students a scholarship in exchange for a transfer from a public school to a private school. Program limits may include requirements for the private school and student eligibility. Student eligibility may be limited based on: income thresholds, attendance at low performing schools, special needs, disabilities, military personnel families, and foster care placement. Vouchers are generally funded at or near the state per pupil allocation. If the award is less than the amount of that student’s per pupil allocation, the state recoups the difference.
Per a 2021 survey on school choice by the Education Commission of the States (ECS), 16 states operate 27 distinct vouchers. Different populations may be served through one voucher or through different vouchers.
TCS programs allow individuals or corporations to allocate a portion of their owed state taxes to private nonprofit organizations that issue private school scholarships to K-12 students. The individual or corporation donates to such an organization and receives a tax credit for the donation. The organization uses donations to provide scholarships to students.
Like vouchers, states generally limit eligibility to certain student populations and set requirements for private schools. Unlike vouchers, the scholarship is not necessarily based on state per pupil allocation; rather it is generally based on the participating private school’s tuition.
According to the ECS, there are 23 TCS programs in 19 states, including Kansas.
ESA programs involve the depositing of public funds into government administered accounts. Eligible students, and their parents, can then use the funds for a variety of purposes, including private school tuition, tutoring, dual- or concurrent-enrollment credits, and other allowable purposes. These purposes are generally limited in legislation, but are broader than other school choice programs focused on tuition. ESA programs may even allow a student to remain enrolled in public school part-time.
Six states have enacted ESA programs according to the ECS. West Virginia’s program, enacted in 2021, is the broadest as it is open to any student enrolled in a public school. Florida, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee limit eligibility to those students with individualized education plans (IEPs) or disabilities. Arizona students are eligible for the ESA program if they have a disability, attend a low-performing school, have a parent who is active-duty military or was killed in the line of duty, are a juvenile court ward, are the sibling of a participating student, have a parent who is blind or deaf or hard of hearing, live on a reservation, or previously participated.
Tax Credit for Low Income Students Scholarship Program (TCLISSP)
KSA 72-4351 through 72-4357 outlines TCLISSP student eligibility, school requirements, and limitations on tax credits. In HB 2134, the 2021 Legislature amended provisions to:
- Clarify that “eligible students” are children eligible for free or reduced-price meals and who were enrolled in kindergarten to eighth grade at a Kansas public school in the previous year when the scholarship is first sought or those who previously received a scholarship and have not graduated from high school or turned 21 years old;
- Expand eligibility by deleting the definition of “public school” as the lowest performing 100 schools and replacing it with any school operated by a unified school district;
- Require qualified schools post links to certain reports on the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) website; and
- Require KSDE include accredited nonpublic schools in achievement reports to the Governor and Legislature.
Student Empowerment Act Program
SB 175 (2021), among other provisions, would have created an ESA program in Kansas for eligible students, including students eligible for free- and reduced-price meals. The conference committee report for SB 175 was not adopted by both chambers.