Private School Vouchers Don’t Help Kids

Americans believe deeply in the promise and purpose of public education. Instead of strengthening the public schools that 90 percent of America’s children attend, President Donald Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continue to promote private school vouchers and backdoor vouchers in the form of tax credits. These market-based education policies are fueled by ideology instead of what is best for kids.

Private school vouchers take money away from neighborhood public schools, and research shows that voucher programs either fail to increase student performance or actually hurt student achievement. Private school voucher programs lack accountability, fail to protect kids from discrimination and increase segregation. Voters have soundly rejected efforts to push these programs, including in Michigan, where DeVos spent more than $5 million bankrolling a private voucher ballot measure that voters ultimately rejected by more than a 2-to-1 margin.



  • Most private schools, even those receiving taxpayer-funded voucher money, do not have to meet standards for curriculum, testing, teacher qualifications or school quality. In states like Louisiana, students using vouchers are being taught creationis7 in science classes.
  • In Pennsylvania,8 private schools that enroll students under a state tax-credit voucher program are not required to provide information on student achievement, testing or demographics.
  • Voucher schools in Florida9 took taxpayer money for kids not even attending those schools.
  • The taxpayer-funded voucher program in Wisconsin paid $139 million10 to schools that failed to meet the state’s requirements for operation.


  • Private voucher schools do not have to provide the same rights and protections to students as public schools,11 including protections in key provisions of the Civil Rights Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Every Student Succeeds Act. Students who attend these schools are stripped of the First Amendment, due process, and other constitutional and statutory rights guaranteed to them in public schools.
  • Most voucher programs also permit schools to discriminate in their admission policies and do not have to accept students with disabilities. Most private schools in the Milwaukee voucher program12 “lack the full complement of educational programs that students with disabilities are entitled to if they receive their education in the public sector.”
  • A U.S. Department of Education report on the Washington, D.C., voucher program13 showed that a main reason why students didn’t use a voucher offered to them was that they were unable to find a participating school with services for their learning or physical disability or other special needs.
  • Only four voucher programs in the country require private schools to accept all students with vouchers, space permitting, according to a Government Accountability Office study.14
  • A 2013 study of a Georgia tuition tax credit program15 found that many schools have explicit anti-gay policies or belong to associations that condemn homosexuality. And in North Carolina,16 voucher programs also fund schools with anti-LGBT policies.


  • As Nikole Hannah-Jones noted17 in the New York Times Magazine: “The very voucher movement that is at the heart of DeVos’s educational ideas was born of white opposition to school desegregation as state and local governments offered white children vouchers to pay for private schools—known as segregation academies—that sprouted across the South after the Supreme Court struck down school segregation in 1954.”
  • In Milwaukee,18 more than 85 percent of African-American students in in the voucher program attend “intensely segregated” schools.
  • The Department of Justice had to sue the state of Louisiana19 because its voucher program may have violated desegregation orders.
  • In Arizona,20 the wealthiest students received most of the money in the tuition tax credit program, leading to increased economic segregation.
  • A study by the Columbus Dispatch21 showed that, in Ohio, “white students appear to get into private schools using taxpayer- funded vouchers at a higher rate than black students.”


1 Mark Dynarski, “On Negative Effects of Vouchers,” Brookings Institution (May 26, 2016).
2 Kevin Carey, “Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins,” New York Times (Feb. 23, 2017).
3 Carey, “Dismal Voucher Results.”
4 David Figlio and Krzysztof Karbownik, Evaluation of Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship Program: Selection, Competition, and Performance Effects, Fordham Institute (July 2016).
5 Martin Carnoy, “School Vouchers Are Not a Proven Strategy for Improving Student Achievement,” Economic Policy Institute (Feb. 28, 2017).
6 Erin Richards, “Report: Choice Schools Lack Specialty Teachers,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Feb. 13, 2013).
7 Zack Kopplin, “Creationism Spreading in Schools, Thanks to Vouchers,” MSNBC (Jan. 16, 2013; updated Sept. 13, 2013).
8 Stephen Herzenberg, “No Accountability: Pennsylvania’s Track Record Using Taxpayer Dollars to Pay for Private and Religious School Tuition,” Keystone Research Center (April 7, 2011).
9 Gus Garcia-Roberts, “McKay Scholarship Program Sparks a Cottage Industry of Fraud and Chaos,” Miami New Times (June 23, 2011).
10 Molly Beck, “State Paid $139 Million to Schools Terminated from Voucher Program since 2004,” (Oct. 12, 2014).
11 National Coalition for Public Education, “Vouchers Undermine Civil Rights,”
12 Patrick J. Wolf, John F. Witte, and David J. Fleming, “Special Education and the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program,” University of Arkansas (Feb. 2012).13
13 Patrick Wolf, Babette Gutmann, Michael Puma, Brian Kisida, Lou Rizzo, Nada Eissa, and Matthew Carr, Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Final Report (NCEE 2010-4018), National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education (June 2010).
14 U.S. Government Accountability Office, School Choice: Private School Choice Programs Are Growing and Can Complicate Providing Certain Federally Funded Services to Eligible Students (Aug. 2016).
15 Southern Education Foundation, “Georgia’s Tax Dollars Help Finance Private Schools with Severe Anti-Gay Policies, Practices, and Teachings” (Jan. 2013).
16 Chris Fitzsimon, “More Taxpayer Funding for Voucher Schools that Openly Discriminate against LGBT Students and Parents,” NC Policy Watch (July 27, 2016).
17  Nikole Hannah-Jones, “Have We Lost Sight of the Promise of Public Schools?” New York Times Magazine (Feb. 21, 2017).
18  Lisa Kaiser, “Still Separate, Still Unequal,” Shepherd Express (May 14, 2014).
19 Nicole Flatow, “Louisiana’s Voucher Program Is Making Segregation Worse, Justice Department Finds,” ThinkProgress (Aug. 26, 2013).
20 Kevin G. Welner, “Education Tax Credits: No Net Benefit to Arizona’s Impoverished Students,” Arizona State University (Feb. 2003).
21 Bill Bush, “White Students Disproportionately Use Ohio School Voucher Program,” Columbus Dispatch (Aug. 27, 2016).
22  Carnoy, “School Vouchers Are Not a Proven Strategy.”
23  Annysa Johnson, “Wisconsin Voucher School Programs Post Enrollment Gains,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Oct. 27, 2015).
24 Indiana Department of Education Office of School Finance, Choice Scholarship Program Annual Report: Participation and Payment Data (April 2016; revised July 2016).
25 Elaine S. Povich, “Tax Dollars for Private School Tuition Gain in States,” The Pew Charitable Trusts (Aug. 6, 2013).