Myths and Facts About School Vouchers

MYTH #8: Cleveland Vouchers Are a Bargain for Taxpayers Since They Cost Less Per Student Than the Normal Per-Pupil Expenditure For the City's Public School Students

FACT: Voucher programs drain critical funds from public schools, and the Cleveland program is far more costly than it may appear.

A recent U.S. News & World Report article stated that Cleveland voucher students this year "received up to $2,250 in assistance-about a third of what the city spends per public-school pupil." Although the maximum voucher amount under the Cleveland program is $2,250, this figure does not accurately represent the total cost to taxpayers. In addition to the voucher amount, there are numerous program expenses that taxpayers must shoulder, including administration and oversight of the program, transportation, record keeping, and other services.35

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.36 From 1991 through 1998, the state appropriated more money for its private schools ($1.1 billion)37 than it did to refurbish its public schools ($1 billion). 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 the 2001-2002 school year began, a spokesman for the Ohio School Boards Association called the state's public school infrastructure "a huge, huge problem."38

The money that public schools save because they are no longer educating voucher students. But per-pupil aid is intended to cover much more than an individual student's desk, books and instructional needs. This aid is also intended to cover the overhead and fixed costs of operating a public school- teachers, counselors and other staff; utility costs; maintenance and repairs; computers; and other fixed costs. Losing a small handful of students to vouchers does nothing to change these fixed costs.39 This was confirmed by a financial audit of the Cleveland public schools by the accounting firm KPMG, which found that, several years into the voucher program, the public schools were "losing [state aid] without a change in their overall operating costs."40

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