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Tax-Credit Scholarships & Education Savings Accounts

January 21, 2022
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Brittany Whitley and Dr. Alan Moss

Executive Summary 

Several states currently operate statewide tax-credit scholarship or related educational savings account programs to increase nonpublic school choice. In 2021, Missouri established the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program via HB 349 and SB 86. In 2022, HB 2211 was introduced to expand this program by allowing qualifying students to include those from counties with more than 100,000 inhabitants (currently 12 Missouri counties). SB 841 has also been proposed to establish a distinct, Education Savings Account Program. It would differ in implementation from the Empowerment Scholarship Program in several ways including its funding mechanism. While limited, government and scholarly evaluation of existing private school choice policies highlight some of the ways that these programs can influence parental satisfaction, student performance, public school funding, and the accessibility of quality choice options. 

Highlights 

  • Tax-credit scholarships, education savings accounts, and vouchers are the three primary  tools to increase private school choice. Program parameters (e.g., funding mechanisms,  student eligibility, approved providers) within and across private school choice options  vary by state. 
  • Government evaluations of tax-credit scholarships and education savings account  programs tend to find high program satisfaction and moderate academic improvements  in some, but not all, states. While states report some level of resource misuse, most  indicate that they do not have the resources to effectively audit all program expenditures
  • Along with student eligibility requirements (e.g., income, disability), the geographic  distribution of choice options and size of the scholarship/grant may make the full range  of choice options less accessible to some rural and/or low-income students.

Limitations  

  • Due to significant differences in policies across states, it is difficult to compare student  achievement (e.g., test scores, graduation rates) and program outcomes. Consistent  evaluation of program quality is further complicated by non-standardized or changing  assessments and frequent legislative changes to existing program parameters. 
  • Because many of these programs are new and changing, it is difficult to predict the  long-term impacts of tax-credit scholarship programs on public school finances and  performance (e.g., facilities or administrative costs, teacher pay and/or quality).  
  • A substantial number of studies and reports on this topic have been funded, performed  and/or published by pro- and anti- school choice advocacy groups.

 

This Note has been updated. You can access the previous version (published January 2021) here.

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