Evidence from Florida: Education Choice works

Education
March 4, 2020

Palmetto Promise Team

In 1998, South Carolina students led Florida students in performance on a number of national tests, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” But over the last decade, Florida far surpassed South Carolina in K-12 education outcomes, most notably among traditionally disadvantaged student populations. 

Currently, only 0.30% of South Carolina students are exercising some form of school choice. Compare that to 5% in Florida. That’s because only 100,000 South Carolina students are eligible for choice programs, while millions of students in Florida can take advantage of education choice.

Florida’s success, especially among disadvantaged populations, shows that dramatic improvement is possible. But many have been skeptical of the positive effect of Florida’s school choice programs.

There have been numerous studies on the academic, fiscal, and legal impacts of education choice in Florida. We’ve put them all here in one place. The evidence is overwhelming: Florida’s school choice revolution was a success.

FISCAL STUDIES

  • Collins Center for Public Policy 2007 Fiscal Analysis
    • Conclusion: The FTC program did not have a negative impact upon K-12 General Fund Revenues for public education for the three years studied (2002-2004)
      • “In fact, K-12 General Fund revenues increased over $2 billion during a three-year period while the state accrued $139.8 million in actual revenues by saving the difference between the value of the $3,500 scholarship and the value of K-12 per pupil revenue. These savings would allow the state to increase per pupil spending by an average of $17.92 per year for the 2.6 million children in the public schools during this period.”
      • Link: Collins Center for Public Policy Updated Fiscal Analysis
  • OPPAGA December 2008 and March 2010 studies examined the fiscal impact of FTC scholarships
    • Conclusion: No evidence that the FTC program adversely impacts state budget or school district budgets.
      • From December 2008 report: – “…in Fiscal Year 2007-08, taxpayers saved $1.49 in state education funding or every dollar loss in corporate tax revenue due to credits for scholarship contributions. Expanding the cap on tax credit would produce additional savings if there is sufficient demand for the scholarship.”
      • From March 2010 report: “For Fiscal Year 2008-2009, OPPAGA estimates that the scholarship program saved (a net of) $36.2 million.”
    • Links: OPPAGA December 2008 Report; OPPAGA March 2010 Report.
  • Florida Revenue Estimating Conference 2012 Analysis of FTC scholarship tax credit cap increase
    • Conclusion:  Fiscal impact created by increasing scholarship cap is offset by the savings of the cost of the scholarship vs. per-pupil FEFP dollar amount.
      • Line 55 of the analysis shows net FEFP savings for 2012-13 as $57.9 million, $57 million for 2013-14, $48.8 million for ’14-15, and $36.1 million for ’15-16.
    • Link: 2012 Florida Revenue Estimating Conference Analysis
  • EdChoice 2016 Tax-Credit Scholarship Audit (Martin Lueken)

ACADEMIC OUTCOMES STUDIES

  • Urban Institute 2019 report (Matt Chingos) on effects of private school choice on college enrollment and graduation
    • Conclusion: Chingos compared college enrollment and graduation outcomes of scholarship students with a group of similarly disadvantaged students in public schools.
      • Scholarship students were up to 45 percent more likely to get college degrees.
      • FTC students were 11-20 percent more likely than similarly disadvantaged public schools students to earn a bachelor’s degree. Those who were on the scholarship for at least four years were 45 percent more likely to earn a degree.
      • FTC students were 16 to 43 percent more likely than similarly disadvantaged public schools students to attend a four-year college. Those who were on the scholarship for at least four years were 99 percent more likely to attend college.
      • FTC students were 12 to 19 percent more likely than similarly disadvantaged public schools students to attend either a two OR four-year college. Those who were on the scholarship for at least four years were 38 percent more likely.
      • “The available evidence indicates that FTC enrolled students are triply disadvantaged. They have low family incomes, they are enrolled at low-performing public schools (as measured by test scores), and they have poorer initial test performance compared with their peers.”
  • Link to study: The Effects of the FTC program on College Enrollment and Graduation – An Update
  • Original 2017 study: The Effects of Statewide Private School Choice on College Enrollment and Graduation
  • David Figlio (Northwestern)/Cassandra Hart (UC-Davis) June 2010 academic study examined the competitive impact of FTC on district school achievement.
    • Conclusion: Study found that the academic achievement in district schools most impacted by tax credit scholarships increased.
      • “Our results indicate that the increased competitive pressure faced by public schools associated with the introduction if Florida’s FTC Scholarship Program led to general improvements in public school performance.”
    • Link to study: Competitive Effects of Means-Tested School Vouchers
  • In 2006, the Florida Legislature required that every scholarship student in grades 3-10 take a nationally norm-referenced test approved by the Department of Education every year. Those test scores are reported to a research team under contract with DOE to write an annual evaluation. Evaluations are currently done by researchers at the Learning Systems Institute at Florida State University.
    • Conclusion: FTC students make roughly the same annual learning gains as students from all income levels nationally. This despite FTC schools serving the lowest-performing students from the lowest-performing public schools in their area, with an annual household income of $26,578 (for a family of four). Fifty-three percent of all scholarship students are from single-parent households. (NOTE: Cassandra Hart October 2011 study examining characteristics of scholarship participating students can be found HERE.)
      • From the 2011-12 report: “There exists compelling causal evidence indicating that the FTC Scholarship Program has led to modest and statistically significant improvements in public school performance across the state. Therefore, a cautious read of the weight of the available evidence suggests that the FTC Scholarship Program has boosted student performance in public schools statewide, that the program draws disproportionately low-income, poorly-performing students from the public schools into the private schools, and that the students who moved perform as well or better once they move to the private schools.”
    • Links to Learning Systems Institute’s annual assessments: 2008 (baseline report), 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019.

COURT CASE: McCALL v. SCOTT

  • June 2015 Second Circuit Court decision in McCall v. Scott (FEA lawsuit against Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) program for lower-income students)
    • Conclusion: Court determines that FEA’s allegations of FTC program causing harm to traditional district schools were insufficient to establish standing. Court offers an opportunity to amend complaint to include additional factional allegations to support their claim of harm. FEA declined the offer. Circuit Judge George Reynolds dismisses case with prejudice.
      • “…Whether any diminution of public school resources resulting from the Tax Credit program will actually take place is speculative, as is any claim that any such diminution would result in reduced per-pupil spending or in any adverse impact on the quality of education. The purported injury asserted here – the loss of money to local school districts – is necessarily speculative…(and) requires speculation about whether a decrease in students will reduce public school costs and about how the legislature will respond to the decrease in students attending public schools… Hence, any claim of special injury to any Plaintiff is speculative and conclusory.”
    • Link to decision: Second Circuit Court – McCall v. Scott
  • August 2016 Appellate Court decision in McCall v. Scott
    • Conclusion:  The First District Court of Appeal upholds the lower court ruling – ruling that the Appellant’s claim that the FTC program creates “special injury” or harm to district schools is without merit.
      • “…The trial court correctly determined that Appellants lacked special injury standing because they failed to allege that they suffered a harm distinct from that suffered by the general public. Indeed, Appellants failed to allege any concrete harm whatsoever.”
      • “Appellants’ diversion theory is incorrect as a matter of law. A close examination of the statutory provisions authorizing the (FTC program) exposes the flaws under Appellants’ argument.”
      • “Further, even assuming that Appellants’ diversion theory was legally sufficient, Appellants’ allegations that the (FTC program) has harmed them are conclusory and speculative.”
    • Link to decision: First District Court of Appeal – McCall v. Scott
  • January 2017 Florida Supreme Court decision in McCall v. Scott
    • Conclusion: Court declines to hear the case, reaffirming First District Court of Appeal – no evidence that the FTC program harms district schools.
    • Link to decision: Florida Supreme Court – McCall v. Scott