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What is a voucher?

Vouchers are payments made to a parent or to an institution on a parent’s behalf to pay for a child’s education expenses, usually at a private or parochial school. Though some voucher programs are financed through private sources, others use public tax dollars to fund tuition at private institutions.

How successful have voucher programs been at targeting low-income and minority children?

Evidence from New York City, Milwaukee and Cleveland suggests that voucher programs have served a predominantly low-income and minority student population. In New York City’s privately funded voucher program, only low-income children eligible for the federal government’s free-lunch program qualified for a school choice scholarship. In Milwaukee’s publicly funded voucher program, only low-income children are allowed to receive a voucher; blacks accounted for 73% of enrolled voucher students, while Hispanic students accounted for 21%. Similar findings were reported in Cleveland’s publicly funded voucher program, which is primarily targeted to low-income children.

Do voucher programs help low-income and minority students perform at higher academic levels?

The data here is conflicting and inconclusive. A review of the research on the Milwaukee and Cleveland voucher programs conducted by the General Accounting Office found no difference in performance between voucher students and public school students. A report on privately funded voucher programs in Dayton, New York City and the District of Columbia by Harvard University’s Paul Peterson and his colleagues, though, found that in the three cities taken together, the average, overall test-score performance of black students who switched from public to private schools was greater than the performance of the control group remaining in public schools, although the extent of the gains varied by grade level and city.

Are publicly funded vouchers the same as education tax credits or deductions?

Not exactly. A publicly funded voucher is a payment the government makes to a parent or to an institution on a parent's behalf to pay for a child's education expenses, usually at a private or parochial school. A tax credit provides direct reductions to an individual's tax liability and a tax deduction is a reduction in taxable income made prior to the calculation of tax liability. Education tax credit and tax deduction programs have taken one of two forms. In the first form, states grant tax credits or tax deductions to parents for their education-related expenses. In the second form, states grant tax credits or tax deductions to persons or groups that contribute money to an organization that then distributes the contributions in the form of student scholarships or public school grants.


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