, Corbin, KY


November 15, 2013

Going to bat for school choice would yield triple play for students, school districts and taxpayers

CORBIN — In the early days, school-choice opponents frequently got away with baseless allegations that usually carried some variation of the following theme: public charter schools and private school voucher and tax-credit programs are radical ideas that harm traditional public schools and fail to offer their students a better education.

Then the school-choice idea, which once was a child, grew into full adulthood.

Since Minnesota opened the nation’s first charter school in 1992, a mountain of gold-standard research grew up too, none — absolutely none — of which reports that public charter schools (yes, they are public schools) harm either their students or states’ education systems.

Naysayers still try to claim that allowing parents a choice of where to educate their children causes financial harm to traditional public schools. Yet such allegations are followed by deafening silence when their perpetrators are asked to provide evidence of such falsehood.

Not only is the resource argument without basis, the opposite is true.

According to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, the nation’s growing number of private-school programs — including the kind of voucher and tax-credit platforms that allow low-opportunity students to gain a private school education — had, as of 2006, saved state budgets and local school districts nearly $444 million.

A soon-to-be-released update will doubtless disclose that number has grown exponentially — mirroring the proliferation of school-choice programs nationwide (but not yet in Kentucky). A hefty chunk of that growth is happening in neighboring Indiana, whose voucher program exploded — from 3,900 students the first year to more than 20,000 enrollees during this, its third year.

The program yielded $4 million in savings for Hoosier taxpayers during its first year alone.

Friedman also shows annual savings produced by private school-choice programs of $38 million for Florida and $47 million for Milwaukee’s longstanding and successful school-choice policy.

There’s every reason to believe that public charter schools would yield millions in savings annually for Kentucky’s school districts.

Understandably, there’s skepticism — even from believers. How, they wonder, does money “diverted” away from current public schools either to charter schools or, even more, to private schoolhouses, help school districts’ budgets?

The answer is easy and complex — all at the same time.

The easy part: If Kentucky passes charter-school legislation similar to the kind proposed in recent years, traditional public schools will be responsible for educating fewer students as some will be leave and enroll in charter schools. However, districts still will get much of the funding they would have received if those children had not transferred to another school. School districts actually can come out ahead financially.

The complex (not complicated) part: Three revenue streams comprised of local, state and federal dollars exist from which school districts receive funding for each of their students.

According to the Kentucky Department of Education’s receipts and expenditures report, districts during the 2012-13 received for each student $3,915 in local funding, $4,636 in state (SEEK) revenue and $1,422 in federal dollars. Include a few additional “miscellaneous” state dollars and Kentucky districts got $11,058 in total revenues per pupil last school year.

However, charter-school bills introduced during recent legislative sessions in Frankfort would allow for only the SEEK portion of the state dollars to “follow” students to charter schools.

This means that not only will parents be empowered to choose the best school for their children, but public-school districts will keep nearly 60 percent of current per-pupil revenues received for those students — even though they will no longer be responsible for educating them.

Empowering parents to choose; providing students trapped in mediocre or downright failing schools a better education; and public schools reaping economic benefits as they have fewer students to educate and more money to do it is a triple play worthy of the support of all Kentuckians and their elected representatives.  

Jim Waters is president of the Bluegrass Institute, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at Read previously published columns at

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