Republic report oversimplifies school choice bottom line

by Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.
Goldwater Institute
Last Wednesday, the Arizona Republic ran a complex story with an unfortunately oversimplified headline: Tuition tax credits drain state money. The headline is all the more unfortunate given the fact that by the Republic reporter’s own estimation the program results in a $3 million savings to taxpayers. I wish someone would “drain” my bank account in a similar fashion.

While the headline left something to be desired, the reporter made a serious effort to bean count the individual and corporate tuition tax credit programs. The corporate tax credit, which is only eligible for students switching from public to private schools, was designed to generate savings, and obviously does so. The individual credit does not have the same eligibility requirements, and thus is a good deal more complex.

For starters, there are varying estimates of private school attendance in Arizona. Republic reporter Robert Hansen’s estimation technique is highly dependent on this. The Arizona Private School Directory lists more than 3,000 more private school students than the National Center for Education statistics Hansen used in his research. It would not shock me if they both underestimate the true number, which would generate larger savings.

Second, there are more than 100,000 students attending Arizona charter schools. In the absence of the tax credit program, there would have been a substantial overall decline in private school enrollment. Whether those kids went to charter or district schools, they would have cost taxpayers money. More to the point, they will have led the Republic to seriously underestimate the number of private school children who would otherwise be attending public schools without the tax credit program.

If private school choice opponents are scandalized by the thought that the credit might cost the state money, I’d like to call their bluff. Arizona lawmakers can create a personal-use tax credit for students switching from a public to a private schools (i.e. if my kid switches from a public to a private school, I take a tax credit). We can set the maximum credit at $3,000, and taxpayers will save thousands of dollars every time a kid switches. Such a program would definitely help close the state’s yawning structural budget deficit.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.


  1. Charter schools save taxpayers money over traditional public schools because they do not use taxpayer-funding buildings, gyms, stadiums, theaters, fields and overpriced digs for administrators.

    When are people like those at the Republic going to realize that spending money on schools is not the same as spending money on education?

  2. And, yet, the charter schools are suing the state, claiming the lower funding they receive is unconstitutional because it is less than what is given to public schools.

  3. It is unconstitutional. I was making the point that it’s also cheaper, for taxpayers. For charter schools and their parents, there’s still pressure to make up the difference.

  4. “The headline is all the more unfortunate given the fact that by the Republic reporter’s own estimation the program results in a $3 million savings to taxpayers.”

    That is not what the reporter found. The reporter found that if one assumes all students who received vouchers would not be going to private school if they had not received vouchers program results in a $3 million savings to taxpayers. This is, to put it mildly, a generous assumption to voucher advocates. If it is not true in even 15% of the cases, the whole thing turns into a net loss for the state.

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