School choice programs don’t ‘take’ money from public schools

Education Minnesota — the state’s teachers’ union — is not shy about its opposition to the school choice movement. (Never mind the research and data on the positive impacts of education choice programs and the public support behind them — particularly in communities of color.)

Source: Education Minnesota

Recently on its Twitter, Education Minnesota tweeted that school choice programs (the union generalized them using the politically loaded language “vouchers”) “take money away from public schools.”

There are two issues here. First, not all school choice programs work the same as vouchers, and the differences matter.

Second, public schools receive state funding only for the students actually enrolled in those schools. If the child does not attend the public school, the school is not responsible for educating the student and is relieved of the costs associated with educating the student; therefore, the school doesn’t receive the state dollars to provide that service. That’s not “taking” money from public schools; a public school has no right to taxpayer money for students it doesn’t teach.

Additionally, certain school choice programs like Education Savings Accounts can end up giving public schools more resources for fewer children. For example, ESAs are often funded using the funds the state would have allocated for the student to be educated in their home district. As mentioned above, if the student doesn’t attend the school, the school doesn’t receive state funds to educate that child, is relieved of the costs associated with having that student in the school, but still receives local and federal funds for fixed overhead costs.

An overwhelming number of empirical studies confirm that educational choice programs do not have a negative fiscal impact on public schools and taxpayers. And a study by the Friedman Foundation found that school choice saves states money even when accounting for public schools’ “fixed” costs, such as building maintenance. These savings can then be plugged back into a state’s education budget and spent on students still in public schools.

If public schools are truly concerned about other school options “taking” money from them, they should consider examining why these families are wanting access to these other options in the first place.