Debates around school funding and the best use of public dollars are rife with confusion. Discussion around school vouchers, which provide public funding for private education, seem to be a particular magnet for half-truths or previously disproven claims. The following table gives a few of the most popular myths, and the reality that runs counter.

Myth: When students take a voucher, public school funding is unaffected.

Fact: First, if enough students leave it means teachers will have to be fired. Any talk of the school being “better off” must grapple with that fact. Second, schools have two types of costs: fixed and variable. Variable costs can be changed quickly, such as the firing of a teacher. Fixed costs remain regardless of whether a student leaves.[1] Air conditioning, school buses, etc. must still be paid for, and losing a few students can make these costs take up more of a school’s budget.

Myth: Schools are over-funded because of the federal relief funds.

Fact: While somewhat flexible, those funds are meant to address the short-term costs and needs associated with the global pandemic and should not be confused with consistent state funds.[2] Federal dollars in this instance will fill a stop-gap role, while schools rely on state funding to make payroll. Meanwhile, the state’s education funding formula remains underfunded. Vouchers will take money from our public schools in the long-run.

Myth: Schools have enough in savings.

Fact: Lawmakers cited the money in school district reserves in the spring of 2020 as evidence that schools have plenty in savings.[3] In reality, school districts may have funding set aside for a predetermined function such as building additions. There are different types of reserves and citing large fund balances as evidence that schools have plenty of savings is like looking at someone’s paycheck on payday and declaring that they must be rich. Bills still need to be paid.

Myth: Parents can use these vouchers to exercise school choice for their children.

Fact: There is no perfect market for schools outside the public system. Many children live in rural counties, where private schools are few to nonexistent.[4] Others could be close to a school that was started as a segregation academy and feel uncomfortable participating in that legacy. Parents might not know that their child is ineligible for certain local private schools because of sexuality, or that the school down the street isn’t accredited by any reputable accreditation agency. It’s easier to argue that vouchers expand choice for private schools by giving them a bigger pool of potential students, not parents, who may still not be able to access private schools.

Myth: Kids perform better on tests in private schools once they use vouchers.

Fact: Vouchers are consistently associated with lower test scores for participating students. Recent studies from Louisiana, Ohio, Washington D.C. and Indiana show student performance suffers for students who change from public to private schools. These results counter the widespread belief that private school education is a wholesale improvement on public schooling. Voucher studies suggest that performance differences between public and private school students can be explained by factors like students’ family incomes, not because private education is inherently better.[5]

Myth: Vouchers support low-income families.

Fact: There’s not any good evidence that vouchers support any income bracket.[6] Policies like these do, however, make it easier to ignore the inequality within the public school system. If public schooling is no longer a responsibility of the state, and now rests on the shoulders of individual parents, then the state isn’t held liable when that responsibility goes unmet. What used to be a public system of accountability and transparency would become a winner-take-all contest to fend for individuals at the cost of the group. Stakeholders concerned about students from families with low incomes specifically should reject vouchers that might pay a fraction of private school tuition and instead promote bills such as House Bill 10, which would provide hundreds of millions in additional funding to educate students living in poverty.[7]

[1] For more information on how schools are funded: see: Owens, S. (2019, May 23). How does Georgia fund schools? Georgia Budget and Policy Institute. https://gbpi.org/how-does-georgia-fund-schools/

[2] Georgia Department of Corrections, (2020, May 4). Georgia school districts to receive $411 million in CARES Act funding.

[3] Salzer, J. (2020). Georgia House, Senate agree to budget with $950 million in school cuts but no employee furloughs. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. https://www.ajc.com/news/state–regional-govt–politics/georgia-house-senate-agree-budget-with-950-million-school-cuts-but-employee-furloughs/VQ2EGU3WMp7m4CL5KWHbDO/

[4] See: Georgia Department of Education (2020). Georgia Special Needs Scholarship Program End of School Year Report 2019-2020 School Year. p. 12.

[5] See: Abdulkadiroğlu, A., Pathak, P. A., & Walters, C. R. (2018). Free to choose: Can school choice reduce student achievement? American Economic Journal: Applied Economics10(1), 175-206; Figlio, D., & Karbownik, K. (2016). Evaluation of Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship Program: Selection, competition, and performance effects. Thomas B. Fordham Institute; Dynarski, M., Rui, N., Webber, A., & Gutmann, B. (2017). Evaluation of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts after one year. NCEE 2017-4022. National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance; Waddington, R. J., & Berends, M. (2018). Impact of the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program: Achievement effects for students in upper elementary and middle school. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management37(4), 783-808; Lubienski, C. A., & Lubienski, S. T. (2013). The public school advantage: Why public schools outperform private schools. University of Chicago Press.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Georgia General Assembly. (2021). HB 10 Support for students living in poverty act (to provide for grants by the State Board of Education to local units of administration to support students living in poverty). https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/58795

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