Voluntary Vouchers?

Gary Houchens writes about an interesting approach to vouchers in Kentucky. I’m not sure this proposal will go very far, but here’s a summary of the proposal:

HB 384 would allow private citizens or corporations to make donations to tuition assistance programs that would provide subsidies for children who cannot afford private school tuition, and then receive a credit on their state tax bill for half the amount of their donation.  These tuition assistance programs would provide help to poor and middle class families with annual household incomes up to $60,000, with $10,000 added to that threshold for each additional school-aged child in the family.

Also, HB 384 would allow citizens and companies to make similar donations to the Commonwealth School Improvement Fund (CSIF), which was established by the state legislature several years ago to support struggling public schools in their improvement efforts.  These donations would also be subject to the 50% state tax credit.  In this way, HB 384 is a great mechanism for supporting both public and non-public schools.

Gary explains his reasons for supporting the legislation in his post.

Here are some thoughts I have on the pros and cons of this approach:

PROS

Donations to the fund are strictly voluntary. No tax dollars go directly to supporting schools accepting the tuition assistance (voucher).

Because the program is a tax credit, per pupil dollars are not directly taken from school systems in the way they are in traditional voucher programs.

The bill also encourages funding for a school improvement program designed to help struggling schools – I find the approach of offering more support/assistance to struggling schools preferable to punishing those schools.

CONS

The funding may vary from year to year, so it is not clear what happens if donations aren’t enough to cover commitments as the voucher program expands.

Ultimately, there would be an adjustment to funds public school systems receive as the SEEK formula is calculated in years following a student leaving via a voucher

The uncertainty of the funding may discourage some families from accepting the voucher, thus limiting any positive impact it may have

School improvement funding should not be contingent on voluntary funds

I think the idea of providing tax credits to individuals and corporations who support a school improvement fund is a novel approach to a particularly tricky problem. Likewise, because the donations are voluntary and the ultimate cost in terms of public dollars, even with tax credits, is likely minimal – this voucher scheme seems less onerous than others around the country.

It will be interesting to see how the program evolves if it receives sufficient support to become law.

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