(Publisher’s note: Georgia’s K-12 GOAL program allows individual and corporate taxpayers to receive an income tax credit for donating to tax-exempt student scholarship organizations, which then fund providing the scholarships that offset the cost of attending private schools. Below are excerpts of a Kennesaw State University Economics Education Center report on the benefits of GOAL.)
Our report detailed the benefits of Georgia’s tax credit scholarship program: The Qualified Education Expense (QEE) program saves Georgia taxpayers significant funds and displays far higher educational attainment among GOAL scholarship students relative to public school students.
The report drew criticism in a response from Kevin Welner, professor of education at the University of Colorado Boulder. We do not find these criticisms to be valid.
Welner described as “speculation” the 90% switcher rate we used, that is, the percent of scholarship students who would have been enrolled in a public school if the scholarship program did not exist. In fact, we cite findings from 27 different observations across time from six different school choice programs:
Lueken (2020) has surveyed the evidence from six different school choice programs from around the nation that assigned scholarships via lottery. In each of these six scholarship programs, many more families sought to access these scholarships relative to the number of scholarships permitted by law. A variety of researchers studied these six programs and have created 27 different observations (across time) of the percent of families who did not win the lottery – families who applied for a scholarship via lottery, but ultimately did not win a scholarship – who then enrolled their children in a public school.
Lueken (2019) created a weighted average of switchers from these 27 observations of the tens of thousands of families who did not win a random scholarship lottery across the six school choice programs over a few years of observation. He reports that in the studies of these six school choice programs, on average, 91 percent of families who were not awarded a scholarship via lottery enrolled their children in public schools (thus, these students would have been truly switchers and attended a private school only if they had received a scholarship). The remaining 9 percent enrolled their children in a private or homeschool setting. The median of these observations was 90 percent. In the interest of caution, we use this lower 90 percent figure in our analysis below and assume that 90 percent of students who applied to the QEE program would have attended a public school in absence of the scholarship program.
Welner also cites a 2001 study of an Arizona program that has zero requirements on scholarship eligibility. Georgia’s program has eligibility requirements (prior attendance in a public school, waived only in limited cases). Thus, the switcher rate in Arizona’s program is not a reasonable guide for Georgia. Further, on pages 15-16 in our report, we provide data on changes in enrollments in public and private schools in Georgia and nationally.
As noted on pages 19-20 in our report, some public school students who are not truly low-income are classified as such. That issue is not present in the GOAL data, another reason our analysis is cautious.
Welner is worried about “attrition bias.” Yes, some students change schools during their high school careers. Some move among and between public and private schools and some move out of state. The high school graduation rate for GOAL scholarship students was calculated with the exact methodology for public schools, yielding an apples-to-apples comparison.
We stand by our report’s findings that Georgia’s tax credit scholarship program saves taxpayers a substantial amount of money and that participating students display significantly higher rates of educational attainment, and we encourage readers to access our detailed report.
Heidi Holmes Erickson is a visiting assistant professor and a senior fellow with the Education Economics Center at Kennesaw State University. Ben Scafidi is a professor of economics and director of the Education Economics Center at Kennesaw State University. He is also a senior fellow with the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.