May 24, 2007




Even if questionable findings are accepted, they represent only miniscule reductions in public school costs.


Contact: Teri Battaglieri (248) 444-7071 (email)

                Bruce Baker (785) 864-9844 (email)


EAST LANSING, Mich. – A recently released report published by the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation claims that school choice programs which subsidize private school attendance with public funds have, cumulatively over 15 years, “saved” taxpayers nearly half a billion dollars.  But a new review of that report concludes the claims of savings are misleading, oversimplified and, even if accurate, insignificant – less than 1/100th of one percent of annual public school spending, or about 60 cents per child per year. Further, the Friedman report does not address the issue of school quality, which is a large part of determining true cost savings.


The report, “School Choice by the Numbers: The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs, 1990-2006,” was written by Susan Aud. It was reviewed for the Think Twice think tank review project by Professor Bruce Baker of the University of Kansas.


In her report, Aud studied twelve programs that offer public subsidies for students who attend private schools in ten states and the District of Colombia. She compared the per pupil cost of public financing (state and local) for a student attending a public school to the public financing of a student using a voucher to attend a private school. Based on this, she found a cumulative savings of $444 million over a 15-year period nationwide.


In his review, Baker points out that expenditures and costs are not the same thing and that the report confuses “cost savings” with “government expenditure reduction.” “Typically,” he explains, “cost savings are defined in terms of achieving similar or better quality of outcome or output with lower investment. Cost necessarily assumes a level of product quality. Further, when one accounts for the cost of producing a product of specific quality, one must account for all resources that went into production, not just the small portion that was government subsidized.”


The bottom line, Baker concludes, is that even if state and local governments were, in fact, able to reduce instructional expenses by $444 million over 15 years, this is a miniscule figure.  The small number is in part because publicly financed vouchers are only used by 100,000 students which represents 0.2 percent of 2005 U.S. public school enrollment. Using 2004-05 public education spending amounts, Baker calculates the purported savings to be the equivalent of less than 1/100th of one percent of annual public school spending, or about 60 cents per child per year.


Aud’s evidence, Baker concludes, “does not make a sufficient case to informed policymakers for the positive fiscal impact of vouchers and tuition tax credits. In fact, it suggests quite the opposite – that fiscal gains are trivial at best.”


Find the complete review by Bruce Baker as well as a link to the report published by the Milton and Rose Friedman Foundation at:


About Think Twice

The Think Twice project provides the public, policy makers and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected think tank publications. It is a collaboration of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory at Arizona State University and the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and is funded by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.


The mission of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice is to identify, develop, support, publish and widely disseminate empirically sound research on education policy and practices designed to improve the quality of public education for all students within the Great Lakes Region. 

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