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MAY 2, 2024

Yes, Recent Voucher Expansions Mostly Support Students Who Never Attended Public Schools-Costing Taxpayers

An NEPC Review funded by the Great Lakes Center

Key Takeaway: Report fails to effectively challenge the established pattern of voucher use by students enrolled in public schools.

GRAND RAPIDS, MI (MAY 2, 2024) - A new report from the voucher-advocacy group EdChoice takes issue with the overwhelming evidence establishing that most users of vouchers under recent expansions of these policies have never attended public schools. In his review of The Reality of Switchers, Michigan State University professor Joshua Cowen highlights the lack of credible research literature and the absence of an accepted methodology used by EdChoice to arrive at its conclusions.

Widespread reporting across multiple states has consistently documented a trend also identified by researchers of school voucher programs: The majority of initial voucher recipients were already attending private schools or were not previously enrolled in public school districts. This undermines a key argument often cited in favor of expanding vouchers-that they are cost-saving measures because they supposedly move students from public to private schools, removing expenses associated with educating those students in public schools. Despite the prevalence of this pattern, conservative think tanks periodically downplay or obscure its importance, portraying vouchers as a novel opportunity rather than a subsidy for those who have already chosen to attend private schools.

Looking at the recent effort by EdChoice, Professor Cowen first notes that the report, which uses data from two relatively small state programs (in Iowa and New Hampshire), fails to even acknowledge the evidence from many other states showing that "switchers" from public schools are too few to overcome the cost of subsidizing so many students already attending private schools.

Cowen also notes that the report includes no methods section or clear methods explanation. "To the extent a method can be discerned," Cowen writes, "the report uses an overly simplistic cost analysis . . . that [compares] the maximum amount of a voucher [to] the per-pupil allowance most states spend on public school enrollment . . ." This "back of the envelope" comparison fails to account for school district's fixed costs regardless of enrollment level. "The report here conflates the average cost of vouchers with the larger, marginal cost borne by taxpayers." Cowen explains:

Think of it this way: The report's method of cost-saving calculation is like saying that because a parent has a child who recently went to college, that parent no longer must pay the full mortgage on their home now that one of its bedrooms is empty. Banks do not work that way, and neither do state or district finances.

Notwithstanding these machinations and attempts to muddy the water, the report largely confirms that most vouchers go to students who had not been immediately enrolled in public schools, according to Cowen. This makes perfect sense-if the government offers parents a subsidy to do what they're already doing, most parents will gladly accept the handout.

Find the review, by Joshua Cowen, at:

Find The Reality of Switchers, written by Martin F. Lueken and published by EdChoice, at:

NEPC Reviews ( provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice:

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The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice is to support and disseminate high-quality research and reviews of research for the purpose of informing education policy and to develop research-based resources for use by those who advocate for education reform.

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Michelle Renee Valladares
(720) 505-1958

Joshua Cowen:
(517) 355-2215