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Big Money Myths About School Choice Scholarships


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Eight different independent fiscal impact studies have concluded the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) saves taxpayer money that can be re-invested in public schools. Not a single study shows otherwise. That’s because the value of the scholarship is far less than what taxpayers spend per student in district schools. In fact, in 2017-18, the scholarship was worth 59 percent of per-pupil spending in district schools, according to Florida TaxWatch. It’s also worth noting that in 2017, the Florida Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit that aimed to have the scholarship declared unconstitutional because the plaintiffs could provide no evidence to back their claims of financial harm to public schools. In May of this year, the lead plaintiff in that dismissed suit, the Florida Education Association, produced an “analysis” that claimed the new Family Empowerment Scholarship would drain $1 billion from school districts over the next five years. The “analysis” drew widespread media coverage, but has no basis in fact. Read more about that here. Read more about all the fiscal studies here.

Myth Buster #1

Florida spends less today on public schools than in the past because of school choice programs

A blog post from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows Florida's K-12 education spending is down 22.7 percent since 2008, more than any other state. It's true, but 2008 was the highest K-12 spending year in Florida's history. The spending was driven by a massive real estate bubble which crashed that year.

But what about before the bubble? Florida passed the first voucher program in 1999. That year the state spent $11.2 billion on K-12 education, including 16,000 students in public charter schools. Adjusting for inflation that comes to $16.6 billion, or about $4.6 billion less than today. Even when subtracting all charter school students and McKay Scholarship students (both of which are funded through the Florida Education Finance Plan), Florida's district schools have 179,000 more students and $2 billion more than in 1999. Per-pupil spending is even up nearly $300, or about 4 percent higher after adjusting for inflation than in 1999.

Myth Buster #2

Florida can't afford school choice

If Florida eliminated charter schools it would cost the state and local governments $1 billion more to send those students to district schools.

Eliminating the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship would require state and local governments to pony up another $441 million annually.‍‍‍

Getting rid of McKay Scholarships for children with special needs would cost more than $100 million.

None of these estimates include the cost of building new schools to accommodate more than 450,000 students currently attending charter or private schools.

Myth Buster #3

Step Up For Students is sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars in cash

This myth has been around for years and stems from a misunderstanding of how IRS 990’s report information. Most recently, the Florida Education Association (FEA) claimed that over a two-year period, Step Up’s “revenue exceeded their expenses by more than $150 million,” and that by the end of 2016 Step Up held “more than a half a billion dollars of net assets.” The “revenue” the FEA refers to in an older 990 (the most recent one is here; the eight most recent are on the Step Up site here) is actually pledges received, not actual cash donations. Donors often pledge to donate in one year but don’t actually make the cash donation until the following year. In other words, Step Up merely received $150 million more in pledges than it spent in actual cash expenses over that two-year period. The same is true for the claim that Step Up held about a half-billion dollars in net assets. That basically means Step Up received a half billion dollars in pledges, most of which won’t become cash donations until the following school year.

Myth Buster #4

Scholarships save Florida money

Florida Tax Watch takes a look at the true cost of educating students in Florida's various programs.

In 2008 the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability found the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program saved $1.49 for every $1 spent.

Scholarships are hurting public schools financially

The True Cost of Public Education in Florida

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