By Rob Roper
A recent examination of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program by Dr. Matt Chingos of the Urban Institute concluded that giving low income students access to vouchers that allow them to attend private schools increases the likelihood that they will attend a public college* and graduate.
*(Note: the study only examined enrollment at public colleges in Florida, and did not look at enrollment at out-of-state, private nonprofit, and for-profit colleges.)
The Florida program allows an income tax credit to corporations that contribute money to nonprofit Scholarship-Funding Organizations (SFOs), which in turn award scholarships to students from low-income families, those eligible for free or reduced lunch or from households making less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
The study concludes: “Participation in the FTC program increases college enrollment rates by 6 percentage points, or about 15 percent. Almost all of this effect occurs in community colleges.”
However, examination of a sub-group within the overall study notes, “…but for students who entered FTC in elementary or middle school, there is a positive impact on four-year college enrollment of 0.9 percentage points (15 percent) after three years of participation and 1.5 percentage points (25 percent) after four or more years.” In other words the longer these low-income students had access to private school options, the more profound and positive the impact was on their college participation.
Vermont’s state college system should take notice. We have a tuitioning system in much of Vermont that allows every student, most importantly low income students, to attend independent schools. The State Board of Education and some legislators are hell-bent on curtailing or eliminating the scope of the program, its effectiveness, or both. This could, if the Urban Institute study is correct, negatively impact future enrolment in state colleges, which are already facing enrolment challenges.
Taxpayers should also take note. The Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability estimated that the program saved Florida taxpayers $36.2 million in 2008–09, or about $1,700 per scholarship.
Rather than scheming to eliminate Vermont’s tuitioning system, the Legislature ought to be working to expand it to all Vermont children. Perhaps folks within the state college system will see the benefit of pushing this policy direction in the future.