The Potluck

GOP voucher-style program would shift $178 million away from public schools

By: - February 22, 2022 2:51 pm

The Minnesota Capitol. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

A Senate GOP proposal to create a school voucher-style program in Minnesota would shift about $178 million away from public schools over the next two years, according to analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Budget Office.

The “education savings accounts” — which would give families state money to pay for private school tuition, textbooks and school supplies — would also require the Minnesota Department of Education to take on about $1.9 million in startup costs not covered by the bill. Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, reintroduced the bill this session after it stalled in the Legislature last year over the objections of House Democrats and the teachers union.

Supporters say the program would give students access — especially low-income students — to better educational opportunities. There’s little evidence showing voucher-style programs improve academic outcomes, however, and experts say low-income students are often left out of education savings account programs altogether.

Chamberlain has said the program would empower parents.

“They deserve self-determination. They deserve choice and options beyond what we have now. To give them the ability to do that will absolutely cause no harm,” Chamberlain said during a 2021 committee hearing. “It will improve everything. True equality.”

One percent of Minnesota’s student body — about 8,600 students — would be eligible in fiscal year 2024, increasing to 2% in 2026. The program would be open on a first-come, first-served basis to families earning up to three times the income limit for reduced-price lunch, or about $150,000 for a family of four.

Each student would get an amount equal to average per-pupil education spending in Minnesota — projected to be roughly $9,200 next year. It would be paid out in monthly installments on a debit card until they graduate high school or re-enroll in a public school.

The Minnesota Department of Education, teachers union Education Minnesota and House Democrats oppose the proposal, citing the effects on public school district budgets, lack of transparency in how private schools would use the money and private schools’ selective admission policies.

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Rilyn Eischens
Rilyn Eischens

Rilyn Eischens is a former data reporter for the Minnesota Reformer. Rilyn was born and raised in Minnesota and has worked in newsrooms in the Twin Cities, Iowa, Texas and most recently Virginia, where she covered education for The Staunton News Leader. She's an alumna of the Dow Jones News Fund data journalism program and the Minnesota Daily. When Rilyn isn't in the newsroom, she likes to read, add to her plant collection and try new recipes.

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