Grading the States

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Analysis

Privatization Programs

This category measures the extent to which a state has encouraged private alternatives to its public school system. In the case of vouchers and neo-vouchers, states lost points for the establishment of programs, as well as the extent to which they encouraged participation. The existence of a voucher or neo-voucher program in a state does not automatically determine whether significant resources are being diverted or if the program is severely impacting public school students. For example, by law, the Tuition Tax-Credit Program in Montana allows for up to 100% of students in the state to participate; however, because the credit awarded is so insignificant (approximately $250), and the maximum tax credit so low ($150), the impact of the law is minimal. South Dakota’s awards and credits are similarly low. In both cases, fewer points were deducted.

On the other hand, Florida, has four distinct and expanding voucher/neo-voucher programs and the impact upon the funding of public school students is significant, and Nevada was a close second. Arizona, Georgia and Oklahoma are not far behind with each losing 37 or more points because of total number of programs, as well as percentage of students eligible for vouchers and neo-vouchers.

States also lost points if they allow charter schools. Those states that permit only public school districts as the sole authorizing agency, lost fewer points. For example, Virginia is a state with only 9 charters, and all must be authorized by the public school district, assuring at least a minimal level of oversight and accountability. In addition, we took into account the extent to which charter schools have expanded. Those states in which charters serve less than 1% of the school population, gained 4 points back. States with 10% or more of its students attending charter schools lost the most points.

The states were reviewed using the categories below:

  • Presence of traditional voucher program and proportion of eligible students
  • Presence of ESA program and the proportion of eligible students
  • Presence of a Tuition Tax-Credit Program and the proportion of eligible students
  • Presence of charter schools and authorization beyond the school district
  • The proportion of students attending charter schools

What We Found

There are 15 states and the District of Columbia with traditional voucher programs. Six (6) states have ESA programs and another 18 states have Tuition Tax-Credit Programs. In total, 28 states plus the District of Columbia have traditional voucher or neo-voucher programs. Forty-four (44) states and the District of Columbia have charter school laws.

Of the 15 states and the District of Columbia with traditional vouchers, 4 states allow at least 50% or more of their entire student population to participate, with Ohio and Wisconsin allowing up to 100% eligibility. The six (6) states with ESA programs are less inclusive with only three (3) (Arizona, Florida, and Mississippi) allowing 11-25% of student eligibility, while the rest are lower. For the states with Tuition Tax-Credit Programs, five (5) states (Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Montana, Oklahoma) allow between 75-100% eligibility of the student population in the state, thus giving them even more potential to significantly undermine the resources available for public school students. In the states (including the District of Columbia) with charter school laws, it is notable that all of the laws, except those of Kansas, Maryland, Virginia, and Wyoming allow for charter school authorization and/or governance to expand beyond the local school district, often impacting the resource allocation in the surrounding public schools.

The state with the most K-12 school privatization was Florida, which lost 43 out of a possible 57 points. It was followed closely by Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Nevada and North Carolina, each of which lost at least 35 points.

Civil Rights Protections

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 are two major federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance from the Department of Education. Discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin is prohibited by Title VI  of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; sex discrimination is prohibited by  Title IX  of the Education Amendments of 1972. Both public schools and charter schools are prohibited from engaging in such discrimination. Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and various state laws provide protections for students with disabilities. Further, under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states and districts must make available to all students with disabilities a free appropriate public education (FAPE).

Blaine Amendments are state constitutional provisions that are intended to prevent state sponsorship of religious programs or institutions. Some states have compelled support clauses as well, which forbid individuals from being forced to support religious institutions.

In addition to protections against religious discrimination or the establishment of religion, other protections should exist to equally ensure the ability of all students to obtain a quality education and be free from discrimination in school enrollment and in the classroom. Such requirements such as random selection admissions policies protect against specific student discrimination based on claimed merit or other requirements, such as the refusal to accept LGBTQ students. English language learning programs and exemptions from participation in religious instruction should exist in any educational program funded by taxpayer dollars.

Unfortunately, private schools by their very nature are not subject to federal civil rights laws. Privatization advocates claim that programs tailored to students with disabilities are the exception, however this is not always true. In fact, voucher proposals often contain language specifically intended to circumvent civil rights laws, and many proponents insist voucher funding does not flow to the school, but instead to the parent or student precisely to avoid any civil rights obligations. So, despite receiving public money, private schools that participate in voucher and neo-voucher programs are permitted to engage in various forms of discrimination, including religious, LGBTQ status, disability, language proficiency and even merit, which ultimately can also be a proxy for racial discrimination. Students using vouchers to attend private schools lose many rights granted by IDEA, including potentially the protection of an individualized education plan (IEP).

For the most part, charter schools, are not permitted to violate federal civil rights laws and the charter outlines their compliance with such laws. However, charter schools are not required to protect and provide for all students in the same way as traditional public schools. For example, they do not always have to provide the necessary services to assist students with disabilities or those that are English-language learners. Often, the discrimination in which some charter schools engage is masked. Strict codes of discipline, lack of free or reduced lunch programs and free transportation, curriculum with a religious bent, and the overuse of grade retention, often result in high attrition rates and selective student bodies.

It is within this context that the following categories were used to assess the civil rights protections provided to students in states with privatization programs. States lost points based on the following:

Voucher, ESA and Tuition Tax-Credits:

  • Blaine Amendments—whether they existed and how broadly they were interpreted. States lost points for not having them or for having amendments that were largely ignored (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • No Compelled Support Clause restriction (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • No mandate to comply with 42 USC 200d (race, color, national origin) (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • No additional State/local civil rights protections (vouchers, neo-vouchers and charters)
  • No mandate to provide ELL services (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • No mandate to provide special education services (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • Allows discrimination based on religion (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • No random selection requirement (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • No Opt Out of religious activities for students who receive vouchers (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • Unclear on funding and service access for special education students (charters)
  • Allows enrollment privilege for non-disadvantaged students (charters)

The existence of a Blaine Amendment alone does not guarantee that public money does not flow to religious private schools. Eight states with Blaine Amendments allow public funds to flow to religious schools via vouchers or neo-vouchers. The same is true regarding compelled support clauses—six states with compelled support clauses still allow money to flow to religious schools via their voucher or neo-voucher program. This is because Blaine Amendments can be either narrowly or broadly interpreted (which we included in our scoring) and because neo-vouchers are designed to be “work arounds.”

On the other hand, some states such as West Virginia have no Blaine Amendment and yet do not have a voucher program. It still receives an overall grade of an A+ because it does not enable the proliferation of privatized programs at the expense of students in the public schools. Alarmingly, two (2) states (Nevada and Vermont) do not have mandates within their voucher statutes for compliance with federal civil rights protections against students based on their race, color or national origin. Further, almost half of all states with vouchers or neo-vouchers (19 states), fail to include additional state and local civil rights protections for students in either their voucher program, charter program or both.

Although Southern states often take the brunt of ire from civil rights advocates, 12 of the states in this list are in the North, Northeast or Midwest of the country.

Only one state, Iowa, with voucher or neo-voucher programs (TTC) requires private schools that receive public funds to provide ELL services. Sixteen (16) states did not require private schools getting vouchers to support special education students with mandated services. The argument made by privatization advocates that such programs will not cherry pick students is not viable given that 22 states and the District of Columbia with voucher or neo-voucher programs fail to guarantee a random selection process for students attempting to participate in their program.

Twenty-three (23) states and the District of Columbia fail to specifically protect students in voucher and neo-voucher programs against religious discrimination and all these same states, except Rhode Island, also fail to enable students to opt out of the religious activities.

Within the charter school context, the picture is somewhat better, with only Alaska and Kansas not providing additional state and local non-discrimination protections, such as protections for LGBTQ students. Unfortunately, students with disabilities are particularly disadvantaged in the charter school system with 39 states and the District of Columbia not clearly establishing clear provision of services. Moreover, 30 states and the District of Columbia do not require charter schools to prioritize disadvantaged students, instead allowing non-disadvantaged students, such as students with special talents or the children of board members, to have enrollment privileges into the charter school system.

Accountability, Regulations and Oversight

Privatization advocates claim that vouchers and charter programs are more accountable than public schools. They argue that parents will “vote with their feet” and that schools will thrive or fail based on their popularity with parents and student success. They also claim that such schools will improve the quality of education for minority students in underserved urban schools. While this may be the case for some percentage of students in certain areas of the country, research has proven this claim to be false. In addition, state and federally sponsored privatization programs drain critical funds from public schools and as this report card shows, lack sufficient public accountability despite the use of shared taxpayer resources.

Vouchers and charters do not decrease education costs, but instead divert tax dollars ordinarily directed to public schools thus limiting the capacity of public schools to educate the remaining students. Such an example is Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which has been disproportionately burdened in a statewide voucher funding scheme. The city has raised property taxes several times to ensure adequate funding for the city’s schools.

Neo-voucher programs (ESAs and Tuition Tax-Credits) create even more challenges from an accountability and oversight perspective because they have little to no accountability at all, while further exacerbating the diversion of public funding. For example, the ESA program of Arizona, the largest in the country, expects no evidence or monitoring of student achievement, while placing 90% of the public school funding on a debit card for parents to find non-public education services. Since these neo-vouchers are generally sending taxpayer dollars to private schools on a larger scale than current state sponsored traditional voucher programs, the expansion of these programs may eventually compromise the ability of states with education clauses to support their public schools in a constitutional manner.

Unlike public schools, privatized alternatives often do not have the same requirements for student testing, teacher certification, background checks of personnel, financial accountability, facility maintenance and more. Inadequate oversight such as this can enable the proliferation of disturbing conditions at such schools. Problems revealed in both the Milwaukee and Florida voucher programs included inappropriate student selection and unlawful admissions policies; hiring unqualified staff and staff with criminal records; misappropriation of public funds; failure to meet safety codes; unlawful discipline of students; and failure to provide adequate supplies for students and staff.

News reports on the misappropriation of taxpayer funds by charter operators and vendors, as well as fraud, mismanagement and theft, occur on a regular basis.

The following categories were used to assess the accountability of the privatization programs in the states. Points were deducted if a state:

  • Receives over 50% of per pupil funding spent on public school students (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • Does not require prior public school enrollment (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • Has no state testing requirements (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • Fails to meet same requirements for teacher certification (vouchers, neo-vouchers and charters)
  • No required background checks for teachers and employees (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • No accreditation of private schools by the state (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • Low SES/at risk not considered in admissions (vouchers, neo-vouchers and charters)
  • More than 5% of public money used for administration of accounts (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • No state oversight of the distribution of funds (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • Fails to follow disciplinary state regulations (charters)
  • Fiscally and legally independent boards (charters)

What We Found

Voucher Programs

Arkansas, Maine and North Carolina plummet to the bottom for the failed accountability of their voucher programs. For instance, none of these states required background checks for teachers and employees in voucher schools.

Of the 15 states and the District of Columbia with traditional voucher programs, 13 including the District of Columbia’s voucher schools receive more than 50% of the per pupil funding that public schools get. In 9 states and the District of Columbia, private schools receiving public money are not required to have their voucher students take the state tests, even as they require (and often punish) public schools based on state test results. Despite claims that vouchers were not meant to support students already enrolled in private schools, 12 states and the District of Columbia do not insist that students be previously enrolled in public schools before being eligible for vouchers and 9 of the states fail to include a requirement of priority for students from families with low socioeconomic status.

Of the states with Education Savings Account programs, all of them divert funding from public school students by placing nearly all of the funding the public school would spend in an account or on a debit card. These funds are shifted to students in private schools, online schools, homeschools and even colleges.

Arizona is the worst state when it comes to accountability for its ESA programs with North Carolina, Nevada and Tennessee close behind. Arizona’s ESA programs fail all the accountability requirements except the background check requirement, use of public money for administration of accounts, and state oversight of the distribution of funds. Nevada, North Carolina and Tennessee similarly fail all but 4 categories.

Tuition Tax-Credit Programs

Tuition Tax-Credit Programs can be especially egregious in maintaining accountability of the use of public taxpayer funds. Of the 18 Tuition Tax-Credit Programs, half of them fail to require any accreditation of the schools that receive a benefit from such Tuition Tax-Credit Programs.

Arizona leads the states for the worst accountability for its Tuition Tax-Credit Programs. Except for requiring background checks for teachers and employees, Arizona’s Tuition Tax-Credit Programs fail all the reviewed accountability categories. Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are close seconds, failing all but three or four accountability categories.

Charter Schools

Although charter schools often claim to have appropriate and effective accountability, an analysis of the charter school laws surfaced significant loopholes. With the exception of 6 states – Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia—all states have charter school laws. Twenty-eight of these states and the District of Columbia fail to require the same teacher certification requirements as traditional public schools, and 27 states and the District of Columbia do not prioritize or consider students from families with low SES status. Thirty-seven (37) states and the District of Columbia have boards that are fiscally and legally independent, which enables conflicts of interest, questionable fiscal arrangements and even fraud.

With the highlighting of suspension and expulsion rates by the release of the first Civil Rights Data Collection for the 2011-12 school year, it is important to note that students of color have been disproportionately impacted by school discipline and expulsion policies. Charter schools are supposed to report their suspension and expulsion rates as part of the CRDC collection process. Across the board, these rates are higher in charter schools. In part, this is because they are often exempt from the same regulations and appeals granted to students in public schools. Twenty-nine (29) states fail to follow the same disciplinary requirements as district public schools.

Transparency Protections for Taxpayers

As part of ensuring the accountability for the use of taxpayer funds, we also reviewed the transparency provisions of vouchers, neo-vouchers and charter schools. Public schools are overseen by school boards whose members are elected or appointed by elected officials. Moreover, these school boards must hold open meetings and provide an open process for gaining public input and reaching decisions. Discipline codes must be available to parents, and suspension and expulsion rates reported and shared. Additionally, financial decisions and contracts are transparent and there are restrictions on nepotism and conflicts of interest for those on the Board.

This is not the case for private schools supported by voucher programs as well as for the charter schools in the majority of states. Private voucher-receiving schools and some charter school boards are not required to allow public input or have a governance body that operates democratically, nor must private schools or all charter schools make their full budget, spending and financial records transparent and available to parents and taxpayers.

Points were deducted from states for:

  • No public transparency on student performance for private schools (vouchers, neo-vouchers and charters)
  • No transparency on withdrawal of students (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • No registration, accreditation, licensing or approval requirement of private schools (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • No public transparency on discipline rates (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • No public transparency on spending and funding (vouchers, neo-vouchers and charters)
  • No public transparency on transactions, salaries or providers (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • No public transparency on governance and meetings (vouchers and neo-vouchers)
  • No state required transparency on charter authorization (charters)
  • No conflict of interest requirement for Board and ESP (charters)

What We Found

Vouchers

Thirteen (13) states and the District of Columbia have no public transparency on the governance and meetings of schools receiving funds through state-supported voucher programs. Twelve (12) states and the District of Columbia also have no transparency on their financial transactions, salaries or providers. Of the 15 states and the District of Columbia with voucher programs, Mississippi fails all categories reviewed, except for the requirement that private schools utilizing state sponsored vouchers register or obtain accreditation, licensing or approval from the state.

Education Savings/Scholarship Accounts

Of the 6 states with ESA programs, Arizona fails all the transparency categories. Florida, Mississippi and North Carolina are next in line failing all categories except the accreditation, licensing or approval category. Because Nevada’s program is on hold, we were unable to assess its transparency.

Overall, ESA programs tend to be structured in a way to avoid public transparency, instead relinquishing any accountability except to the extent that the ESA provider established to administer the ESA program must be financially accountable for the distribution of the scholarship accounts. However, there is a stark difference between the transparency of the ESA provider and that of the private school that is utilizing the ESA. With limited exceptions, ESA programs have even far less transparency than traditional voucher programs because they are specifically structured to avoid public accountability.

Tuition Tax-Credit Programs

Of the 18 states with Tuition Tax-Credit Programs, 17 of the states fail to provide any public transparency about the discipline rates for private schools or the transactions, salaries or providers for private schools. Sixteen (16) states fail to provide any public transparency on governance and meetings for private schools and 12 states fail to provide any public transparency on spending and funding for private schools.

Among the programs, Illinois and South Dakota’s Tuition Tax-Credit Programs have the worst level of public transparency failing all 7 categories.

Charter Schools

For charter school states, of the 43 states plus the District of Columbia, 38 of the states and the District of Columbia have no required transparency provisions regulating the spending and funding by the charter school’s educational service providers or charter management organization (ESP, EMO or CMO) even though in some cases they may receive substantial proportions of public dollars. Notably, 18 states also fail to require transparency in the authorization process of charters. This limits the ability of the public to have input into the proliferation of charters in their school district.

ADDITIONAL RATINGS FOR CHARTER SCHOOL PROGRAMS

Because many of the categories used to rate vouchers and neo-vouchers did not apply to charters, an additional category with unique components was added to more fully analyze the accountability, transparency and civil rights protections of the laws and regulations that govern charter schools in the states. One state, Kentucky, was not fully rated because Kentucky passed a charter school law but has not yet passed enacting regulations, nor has it funded its charter school program.

The following additional categories were analyzed. Points were deducted based on the following:

Type of Charter

Although nearly all states allow charter schools, some states have embraced more privatized models.

Points were deducted for:

  • For-profit charters allowed
  • For-profit charter management companies allowed
  • Virtual charters allowed
  • High performance by charters not required

Oversight:

  • Renewal period more than 5 years
  • Insufficient growth caps
  • No annual audits required
  • No requirements for advertised and open board meetings
  • If charter closes, property and assets are not returned to taxpayers

State/local requirements:

  • District must provide space
  • Transportation not mandated by state

What We Found

Four (4) states (Arizona, California, Michigan and Wisconsin) allow for-profit charter schools funded by the taxpayer, however, nearly all of the other states allow for-profit management companies to govern and provide services to their charter schools, with many management companies receiving a majority or near majority of the taxpayer funds intended to fund the schools. Virtual charter schools are permitted in 25 states despite ample documentation on the ineffectiveness of virtual charter schools, whose graduation rates hover around 44%. Nearly all are run by for-profit management companies, and many have been shut down, or fined for fraudulent practices.

Although charter advocates often herald the flexibility of their schools, this can come at a cost. Since public funding is being utilized to support these schools, it follows that appropriate oversight should be exercised. Unfortunately, neither Alabama, Alaska, Kansas Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin nor Wyoming require annual audits of their charter schools. Further Hawaii, Kansas, New Mexico, and Utah also fail to require transparency in their governing process with no requirements for advertised and open board meetings. Most startling of all, 22 states do not mandate that the property of the charter school be returned to the taxpayers if the charter school voluntarily closes or fails.

The idea that charters provide options to students, particularly those from low-income families, is undermined if charter school are not required to provide transportation to their schools. Twenty-seven states and the District of Columbia fail in this category. Of particular note in the states of California and New York, is the requirement that the district must provide charters with space. This requirement has resulted in the displacement of public school students in their own school buildings, and students attending schools in the same building with unequal resources due to the millions in donations that charter schools receive.

Privatization by Voucher Programs
State Grade
Alabama C
Alaska A+
Arizona F
Arkansas C+
California A+
Colorado A+
Connecticut A+
Dist. of Columbia C+
Delaware A+
Florida F
Georgia F
Hawaii A+
Idaho A+
Illinois D+
Indiana F
Iowa C+
Kansas C
Kentucky A+
Louisiana F
Maine C+
Maryland B
Massachusetts A+
Michigan A+
Minnesota A+
Mississippi F
Missouri A+
Montana C+
Nebraska A+
Nevada F
New Hampshire D+
New Jersey A+
New Mexico A+
New York A+
North Carolina F
North Dakota A+
Ohio D+
Oklahoma F
Oregon A+
Pennsylvania C
Rhode Island C
South Carolina C+
South Dakota B+
Tennessee C+
Texas A+
Utah C
Vermont C+
Virginia C+
Washington A+
West Virginia A+
Wisconsin C
Wyoming A+
Privatization by Charter Programs
State Grade
Alabama D
Alaska F
Arizona F
Arkansas F
California F
Colorado F
Connecticut F
Dist. of Columbia F
Delaware F
Florida F
Georgia F
Hawaii F
Idaho F
Illinois F
Indiana F
Iowa F
Kansas C+
Kentucky C+
Louisiana F
Maine F
Maryland C
Massachusetts F
Michigan F
Minnesota F
Mississippi F
Missouri F
Montana A+
Nebraska A+
Nevada F
New Hampshire F
New Jersey F
New Mexico F
New York F
North Carolina F
North Dakota A+
Ohio F
Oklahoma F
Oregon F
Pennsylvania F
Rhode Island F
South Carolina F
South Dakota A+
Tennessee F
Texas F
Utah F
Vermont A+
Virginia C+
Washington C
West Virginia A+
Wisconsin F
Wyoming C+

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For full footnotes and appendix, please download the full report [PDF].