"Parental Rights"

Who Pays for Vouchers and How Much do they Really Cost

The vast majority of funds for the Cleveland voucher program have come from Cleveland’s portion of the state’s Disadvantaged Pupil Impact Aid (DPIA) program.5 To date, the Cleveland voucher program has cost more than $28 million. When direct administrative costs are factored in, costs of the voucher program increase to $33 million. For the 2001-02 school year there are 4,266 voucher students. Costs of the program this year are estimated to exceed $8 million in DPIA funds, with an additional $2 million or more being spent by Cleveland public schools to provide transportation for voucher students. In total, the voucher program will cost more than $10 million this year, 100 percent of which comes from funding intended to benefit children in Cleveland public schools.6

Although the maximum voucher amount under the Cleveland program is $2,250, this figure does not represent the total cost to taxpayers. In addition to the voucher amount, there are numerous program expenses that taxpayers must shoulder such as administration and oversight of the program, record keeping, information dissemination, transportation and other services. In fact, it has been estimated that Ohio spends more state tax money per voucher student than it does for nearly 90 percent of the state’s public school children.7 From 1991 through 1998, the state appropriated more money for its private schools ($1.1 billion) than it did to refurbish its public schools ($1 billion).8 For Ohio to prioritize state funds in this way is significant given that, until recently, federal officials ranked the condition of school facilities in Ohio dead last among all 50 states. As this school year began, a spokesman for the Ohio School Boards Association called the state’s public school infrastructure "a huge, huge problem."9 In the 1998-99 school year alone, $140 million went to private schools for textbooks, reading and math specialists, science equipment and more.10 All of Ohio’s private schools—including those receiving voucher money—already receive an average of about $600 per pupil in cash, supplies and services from state taxpayers and local schools.11

Furthermore, more than most states, Ohio relies heavily on local property taxes to fund state education. Consequently, affluent, predominantly suburban districts have much greater means to fund their public schools than do poor inner city and rural districts. A recent Education Week analysis ranks Ohio 44th out of 50 states in ensuring equitable funding.12 Three times in the past decade, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled the state’s school funding formula unconstitutional and raised concerns about the method used to calculate the cost of an adequate education. In the most recent decision on September 6, 2001, the justices said they were prepared to uphold the constitutionality of the funding system if the legislature agrees to substantially raise expenditures on K-12 education. However, Senate President Richard Finan (R-Evendale) has stated that he would not support either a tax increase or budget cuts to meet the court order. Said a defiant Finan: "I say let the court figure it out."13

During the very years that this funding impasse between the Ohio Supreme Court and the legislature was playing out, the legislature continued to find money for vouchers and private schools. Cleveland’s Catholic schools received $3.3 million in state tax money in 1998, while some of the state’s public schools were found to have among the worst facilities and technology in the nation.14 Clearly, legislators’ decisions were not driven by fiscal responsibility, as the voucher program exceeded its budget by about 20 percent during its second year. Incredibly, this shortfall was covered with funds earmarked for public schools even when public schools, at the same time, were borrowing against future revenues to keep their doors open.15

Voucher advocates argue that tuition scholarships allow eligible students to leave public schools, reducing the number of students in classes and thereby saving public schools money. However, a study conducted by consulting firm KPMG found that the Cleveland district’s operating costs continued to increase despite the voucher program. KPMG found that even those students who left the public schools to use vouchers were drawn from throughout the large district, so that it "is not able to reduce administrative costs or eliminate a teaching position.…" Instead, KPMG reported, Cleveland’s public schools are "losing [state aid] without a change in their overall operating costs."16

Voucher proponents claim that vouchers save taxpayer money since the voucher amount is less than the average per-pupil expenditure in public schools. However, their estimates fail to take into account the cost of services that most private schools do not provide—such as breakfast and lunch programs, health services, aid for children with disabilities, special education and ESL programs, counselors and transportation. The state provides Cleveland public schools with DPIA funds to pay for many of these services. DPIA is directed toward low-income public school students to be used for such programs as class size reduction, dropout prevention, Head Start or pre-school, all-day kindergarten, reading improvement and summer school.17 However, in the first five years of the program, as much as $27.6 million that would have gone to implement these various programs to benefit Cleveland’s disadvantaged public school students has been diverted to the voucher program.18 These diverted funds could have strengthened Cleveland’s ability to shape and direct new programs toward low-achieving students, and could have eased budgetary pressures that for example, forced the district to eliminate all-day kindergarten for its non-magnet schools in the year the voucher program was initiated.19

Additionally, while the Cleveland voucher program was responsible for providing transportation services, the state audits found irregularities and transportation cost overruns. Beginning in 1999, this responsibility was shifted from the voucher program to the Cleveland Municipal School District—without any additional funding for the district. Whereas public school students are concentrated in smaller areas (allowing the district to take advantage of economies of scale and transport more children for less money), voucher students and schools are scattered all over the city, resulting in higher costs to transport voucher students. Moreover, voucher schools operate on different schedules than public schools, making it impractical to use regular public school bus routes to transport voucher students, and resulting in more overtime pay for drivers when the private schools operate but public schools do not, such as public school holidays and teacher planning days. In addition, some voucher students’ homes are too remote to be served efficiently by buses, forcing the Cleveland Municipal School District to pay an estimated $1,200-$1,800 per pupil per year to transport these students by taxi.20

Since voucher student transportation costs are no longer paid for out of the voucher program budget, the direct costs of the voucher program have decreased considerably—by an average of $815 per student per year. Unfortunately, this burden has been shifted to the Cleveland public schools. These indirect transportation costs of the voucher program—which exceed the $500 per student per year that it costs to transport public school students in Cleveland—mean that the city’s public schools must shoulder a burden of more than $2 million for the 2001-02 school year. Of course, $2 million could have paid for any number of educational or extracurricular programs for public school students.21

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