Study contends voucher programs save money, benefit public schools

Erin Richards:

Milwaukee’s long-running school voucher program that allows certain children to attend private and religious schools at taxpayer expense has saved Wisconsin more than $238 million since its inception in 1990, according to a new study by a national voucher advocacy group.

The study released Tuesday by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice said that across the country, publicly funded vouchers to offset tuition for about 70,000 children attending private schools in 10 cities has saved a total of $1.7 billion.

That’s not a surprisingfinding — vouchers are generally lower in cost than public school education.

But the study’s more provocative point is that the savings from those voucher programs in Milwaukee and other cities are passively plowed back into public schools or other public programs.

Author Jeff Spalding, the director of fiscal policy and analysis at the foundation, said he lacks the data to track exactly where those savings went in each state, but said it’s just common sense that government savings from vouchers would naturally flow into other public purposes, such as schools, roads, law enforcement or health care.

Critics pounced on that reasoning, noting that taxpayer dollars to private schools in the form of vouchers siphon resources away from the public schools.

Also, the study predates new rules in Wisconsin that allowed more students to use vouchers, both by expanding the Milwaukee program and establishing the Racine and statewide private-school voucher programs.

The statewide program is now funding vouchers predominantly for students who were already attending those private schools.

Related: Comparing Milwaukee Public and Voucher Schools’ Per Student Spending