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Why Pennsylvania Should Reject Vouchers

Susan Spicka, Education Voters PA
Diana Polson, Keystone Research Center
Marc Stier, Pennsylvania Policy Center

Here we quickly summarize three major reasons why the General Assembly should not adopt a new voucher program.

  1. Voucher-funded schools do not offer educational choice for families and students. They use public dollars to support schools that engage in discrimination against many families and students.

Voucher programs do not create educational “choice” for many families and students. Instead, voucher programs create the illusion of “choice” because private and religious voucher schools can—and do—engage in discrimination and refuse to enroll students, even if their family is eligible for a voucher. We have seen this in the tax-credit voucher programs already in place in Pennsylvania. In 2022–2023, the Pennsylvania legislature authorized the diversion of $340 million tax dollars out of the state treasury and into private and religious voucher schools through the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs. Private and religious voucher schools that receive tax dollars through these programs engage in blatant and explicit discrimination against students because of their religious beliefs, academics, disability, LGBTQ+ status, because they are pregnant, have children or have had an abortion, and morePennsylvania’s EITC and OSTC.[1] (See Ed Voters report:

Many voucher-supported schools have not served children well. There is high turnover in the schools, whether because the education they provide is unsatisfactory or because schools push student out. In Indiana, Louisiana, and Wisconsin, roughly 20% of students leave voucher programs every year. In Florida, 30% of students do not return to a voucher-supported private school. And many schools that have been created to receive vouchers soon close. More than 40% of the private schools receiving vouchers in Wisconsin have failed or closed since the program began.

  1. Vouchers do not provide choice to students because they mainly go to students who already attend private school.

Partly because private schools that receive vouchers are allowed to discriminate in choosing students, the vast majority of students who receive vouchers are already attending private school. In Arizona, 80% of students who received vouchers never attended public schools; the number was 89% in New Hampshire; 75% in Wisconsin; and 70% in Florida.

  1. Every public dollar funding tuition at a private school leaves fewer dollars available to be spent in the state budget, undermining the Commonwealth’s ability to fully and fairly fund public schools, which educate all students.

The recent Commonwealth Court ruling found that Pennsylvania’s grossly inadequate and inequitable system for funding public education is unconstitutional. Allocating state tax dollars to fund private and religious voucher schools does not help the state to meet its constitutional requirements. Instead, directing public dollars into voucher schools that are free to discriminate against children makes compliance with the court ruling harder to achieve.

States that started small voucher programs—such as Arizona, Florida, and Iowa—have seen them grow in to near-universal programs.[2] And that growth has been accompanied by a diversion of state support from public schools. Meanwhile, as some students move to private schools, state support for public schools declines even though school districts’ fixed costs for administration and building maintenance are unchanged.

That is exactly what we have seen in Pennsylvania’s experience, over the last decade, with the ETIC and OSTC tax-credit vouchers, including this year. Every year, increase funding for public schools in our state—which have barely covered the cost of inflation and state mandates—have come at the political cost of adding funds for the tax credit-vouchers. A new voucher program would deepen the problem and lead to further diversion from public schools to private schools, making it impossible for the state to meet its constitutional and moral obligation to ensure that every student in Pennsylvania receives an adequate and equitable education.

  1. Research fails to show that vouchers improve student achievement; recent studies show they are harmful.

Voucher experiments have been going on, mostly in small cities,[3] over the last several decades—long enough for there to be a body of research on the impact vouchers have on student achievement. A review (2011) of earlier research into voucher programs found that there was little difference in achievement levels between voucher students and public school students, and with only occasional positive effects of vouchers on student achievement.[4] It’s important to know that these early studies were mainly of relatively small city-based programs.

Recent research on larger voucher programs in Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and Washington D.C., has found more negative achievement outcomes in voucher programs. Studies in these locales found voucher programs have a negative or neutral impact on student achievement.[5] Very concerning effects were documented in the Louisiana study; researchers found  losses in math of nearly 0.5 standard deviation, which is more than double some estimates of the effects of the pandemic on learning loss. These findings have been found to persist over time as well.[6]

Research on Ohio’s EdChoice program showed students in voucher programs fared worse on state exams than their peers who remained in public schools. An evaluation of Washington D.C.’s voucher program also found that in their first year with a voucher, students had worse achievement in math than students who applied for the program but did not receive a voucher.[7] A similar trend was found in research on the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program—students in voucher programs experienced an achievement loss in math compared to public school students.[8] Research on vouchers has shown that the larger the program the worse the results tend to be for students in voucher programs.[9]

[1] See Education Voters’s comprehensive report on discrimination in tax-credit supported voucher schools in Pennsylvania,

[2] A good overview of these and other programs and their effect on public schools, with additional citations, is Iris Hinh and Whitney Tucker, State Lawmakers are Draining Public Revenues with School Vouchers. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, June 12, 2023,

[3] Joshua Cohen, “Apples to outcomes?” Revisiting the achievement v. attainment differences in school voucher studies,” Brookings, September 1, 2022,

[4] Alexandra Usher and Nancy Kober, “Keeping Informed about School Vouchers: A Review of Major Developments and Research,” Center on Education Policy, 2011, A Keystone Research Center study 13 years earlier reached similar conclusions: see also Alex Molnar, “Smaller Classes, Not Vouchers, Increase Student Achievement,” Keystone Research Center, 1998, 

[5] Jonathan N. Mills, Anna J. Egalite, Patrick J. Wolf, “How Has the Louisiana Scholarship Program Affected Students? A Comprehensive Summary of Effects after Two Years,” Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, February 22, 2016,; R. Joseph Waddington and Mark Berends, “Impact of Indiana Choice Scholarship Program: Achievement Effects for Students in Upper Elementary and Middle School,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 37, Issue 4, 783-808; David Figlio and Krzysztof Karbownik, “Evaluation of Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship Program: Selection, Competition, and Performance Effects,” Thomas Fordham Institute, July 2016,

[6] For more information see Joshua Cohen’s piece, “‘Apples to outcomes?’ Revisiting the achievement v. attainment differences in school voucher studies,” Brookings, September 1, 2022, Also see: Matt Barnum, “Do voucher students’ scores bounce back after initial declines? New research says no,” Chalkbeat, April 23, 2019,

[7] Reading results were not statistically significant. Mark Dynarski, Ning Rui, Ann Webber, Babette Gutmann, Meredith Bachman, “Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program,” National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, June 2017,

[8] Joseph Waddington and Mark Berends, “Impact of Indiana Choice Scholarship Program: Achievement Effects for Students in Upper Elementary and Middle School,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Vol. 37, Issue 4, 2018, 783-808.

[9] Joshua Cohen, “Research on school vouchers suggests concern ahead for education savings accounts,” Brookings, August 15, 2023,