Education Options in the States: State Programs That Provide Financial Assistance for Attendance at Private Elementary or Secondary Schools
Revised February 2009
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This report provides information on state programs that provide financial assistance for student attendance at private elementary and secondary schools.

Types of programs discussed in this report

In this report, state programs are grouped in the following two general types:

The following descriptions of these general types are provided to assist the reader.

Scholarships are payments made to families or guardians on behalf of students or to education institutions as directed by those acting on behalf of students for a student's education expenses. The term "voucher" is also used to describe this form of payment. Scholarships may be funded publicly by tax dollars or privately by scholarship organizations. This report describes only publicly funded scholarship programs, sometimes referred to as "tax-supported scholarships." Education institutions that accept publicly funded scholarship students also may be public or private. This report focuses on scholarship programs that allow for attendance at private elementary and secondary schools. Education expenses covered by scholarships normally include tuition, and also may include a range of fees and transportation costs. Scholarships may cover such expenses in full or in part.

Scholarship programs may be designed so that assistance is available only to students who meet certain eligibility criteria. Student eligibility criteria used in state scholarship programs may include but are not limited to: original school of attendance, area of residence, family income, and disability. In classifying state programs into scholarship type, this report accordingly includes a further short description of the set of students eligible for assistance. For instance, this report refers to the scholarship program in the state of Wisconsin as providing scholarships to students from low-income families in Milwaukee.

Scholarship-like tuition assistance refers to a particular kind of assistance provided by the states of Maine and Vermont. In these states, school districts that have no available public schooling options at a given level (e.g. secondary school) -typically, school districts in small towns or rural areas -may pay the costs associated with its students attending private or public schools in other districts.

Tax credit and tax deduction programs reimburse education-related expenses fully or partially via tax relief. Tax credit programs reduce a taxpayers' tax liability. Tax deduction programs provide reductions in taxable income prior to calculation of tax liability. As with publicly funded scholarship programs, this report focuses on tax credit and tax deduction programs that provide assistance for student attendance at private elementary and secondary schools.

Tax credit and tax deduction programs may be designed to provide tax relief to specific recipients for specific education-related expenses. In this report, tax credit and tax deduction programs are classified further as applicable to a) individual or corporate taxpayers for charitable contributions to organizations that provide scholarships for eligible students choosing to attend private schools and b) parent (or guardian) taxpayers for education expenses including, but not limited to, private school tuition.

Organization of the report

Information on state programs in this report is organized in two sections, followed by two appendixes.

Overview of state programs provides an overview of the state programs signed into law as of Dec. 31, 2008, including tables of selected state program data. Data are presented in tables according to program type. State programs providing financial assistance for student attendance at private elementary and secondary schools are listed in table 1 by state, program type, type of program, and the year it was signed into law. Information on the number of students participating in scholarship or scholarship-like tuition assistance programs, and the average amount of assistance provided by those programs is listed in table 2. For information on the numbers of scholarship organizations and scholarships awarded via tax credits or tax deductions to individuals or corporations who make contributions to scholarship organizations, see table 3. For information on the number of taxpayers (parents) claiming tax credits for education expenses as well as the average amount of the claim by program, see table 4.

Descriptions of state programs provides individual summary descriptions of the respective state programs. Where available, information is provided on the following topics: program type, name, description, amount of assistance, number of participants, authorizing statute, legislative history, judicial history, and sources for more information.

Appendix A provides citations for the authorizing statute(s) along with expanded statute descriptions and hyperlinks to statutory documents for each of the respective state programs.

Appendix B lists Web resources for further information on the state programs and for information on general issues in private school choice.

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Last Modified: 04/30/2009