The School Voucher Audit: Do Publicly Funded Private School Choice Programs Save Money?

From Jeff Spalding at the Friedman Foundation:

One of the pillars of Dr. Milton Friedman’s school voucher idea was that it not only would expand personal freedom and improve student achievement but also save money.

To see if that is indeed the case, this paper presents a cautious, rational estimate of the overall fiscal effects of school voucher programs that have been established over the past 24 years. It is not to lay claim that this analysis is a definitive, to-the-penny calculation of the fiscal impact incurred by every state government and local public school district where those voucher programs are in effect. That arduous undertaking would take too long and add too little value to the broader public policy debate to justify the immense effort and cost. That’s a task best addressed at the individual state level.

For the 10 school vouchers programs examined in this report, a cumulative total savings of at least $1.7 billion has been realized since 1990-91, the first year of the historic Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), through 2010-11, the end of this paper’s review period. During that same timeframe, participation in school voucher programs grew from 300 students to nearly 70,000, an increase of over 230 times.

Beyond just calculating the cumulative savings realized from school vouchers, this report strives to substantially elevate the reader’s understanding of how school choice savings are measured. The most relevant relationship in calculating the fiscal impact of school choice is the difference between: (1) the amount of financial assistance (i.e., the voucher amount) provided to participants and (2) the current cost of educating those students in the public school system. If the average voucher amount is less than the average per-student educational cost, a savings is realized for those students that use a voucher to leave a public school to enroll in a private school. It’s that simple!

Read more: Friedman Foundation