When New Yorkers go shopping, many seek out the best deals and spend their money wisely to maximize tight budgets. New York State could, and should, do the same for its residents, who support adding some cost-saving items to their shopping lists.
Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo is preparing for a $9 billion budget gap when he takes office. With public education consuming a considerable portion of state operating funds, education cuts could be on the table. But the cuts need not be too painful, as a majority of recently polled New Yorkers support policy changes that empower parents and improve schools while opening the door for cost savings.
A new survey released by Milton Friedman's Foundation for Educational Choice, and conducted by Braun Research Incorporated (BRI), shows that 66 percent of polled New York voters support vouchers and 70 percent support tax-credit scholarships. Both measures allow families to access all or part of the government funding allotted for their children to send them to the private schools of their choice.
How do vouchers and tax-credit scholarships save money? A new school choice program in Oklahoma shows how. Parents of disabled children there can receive vouchers worth either 95 percent of the state and local dollars currently "attached" to their child or private school tuition, whichever is less. The program is guaranteed to be fiscally neutral, with a strong possibility of even saving taxpayers money. Other school choice programs across the country realize these savings with similar measures: They might provide scholarships worth just a portion of private school tuition or cap the scholarship amount at a smaller percentage of total per-pupil expenditures. In Florida, for example, its tax-credit scholarship program provided the state a net savings of $36.2 million in fiscal year 2008-09, according to the Florida Legislature's Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability.
Nationwide, in 2007, Dr. Susan Aud of the Foundation for Educational Choice found that school choice programs in place between 1990 and 2006 produced $444 million in net savings to state and local budgets. That may not seem like a lot of money given today's billion- and trillion-dollar spending programs, but taxpayers need every cent they can get.
Speaking of cents, New Yorkers want more of it for education - but there's a catch. Among those polled, a majority (53 percent) thought public education funding was too low. However, digging a little deeper, the same poll found that only 7 percent could identify the accurate range of combined local, state, and federal per-pupil funding in New York ("over $16,000"). If given the gift of school choice, parents would likely know full well how much is being spent on their children - because they'd be the ones spending it. This, as other states have shown, works.
In a 2008 study, Dr. Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas found that of "the ten separate analyses of'gold standard' experimental studies of voucher programs, nine conclude that some or all of the participants benefited academically from using a voucher to attend a private school." None conclude there is a negative effect.
Currently, there are 26 school choice programs in 16 states and the District of Columbia, serving some 190,000 students. Approximately 700,000 students' educational costs are being reduced by personal tax credits and deductions. None of these private school choice programs are available to New York families. But they should be, because every parent deserves the right to decide how their child is educated. And, significantly, they do want something different.
The EdChoice/BRI poll found that if given a choice of where to educate their children, only 29 percent would choose regular public schools. On the other hand, 49 percent would choose private schools, 14 percent public charter schools, 7 percent home schools, and 1 percent virtual (or online) schools.
In the future, if New York families could add such educational options to their "Black Friday" shopping lists, New York State might be less susceptible to falling into a fiscal black hole.
Jeff W. Reed is a state program director for the Foundation for Educational Choice, the legacy foundation of Milton and Rose Friedman.