American Federation for Children Releases School Choice Report Card

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

The American Federation for Children (AFC) and the AFC Growth Fund have published a Report Card for 2016-2017 Private School Choice Ranking in their effort to promote school choice.

The AFC is focused on advocating for strong programs. The AFC Growth Fund ensures that mothers and fathers receive thorough information on schools in their state, and the AFC Action Fund assists in getting pro-school choice candidates elected.

The federation envisions a US educational system where parents are allowed to choose the best environment for their kids to ensure all young people, particularly low-income children, get the opportunity to receive the finest education possible. The quality instruction for US students may be found in a traditional public school, a public charter school, a virtual learning program, private school, homeschool, blended learning, or other models not yet created.

In July 2016, there were almost 400,000 students enrolled in 50 private school choice programs in 25 states plus Washington, D.C. The AFC only recognizes programs that give parents enough assistance to be able to make a different educational choice and provides parents with a variety of private school alternatives, including parochial schools.

The 50 programs are comprised of 23 vouchers, 20 scholarship tax credit opportunities, five educational savings accounts (ESAs), and two refundable individual tuition tax credits of significant size. AFC is aiming at having their ranking tool analyze, score, and guide existing programs and increase student participation.

The foundation uses broad categories and numerous subcategories that are necessary to assure there is an ongoing supply of quality schools and the tools needed to ensure sustainability.

A crucial component is student eligibility, as well as the limitations placed on the young people who may participate in a given program. The constraints can include public school or district academic performance, family income, prior public school attendance, geographical area, and changes in household income. If a program puts a limit on the number of students who can attend or the amount of funding available, AFC believes that students from working-class and low-income families should be put on top of the list of potential enrollees.

The next category is program and scholarship size, which includes average academic award amount defined as the percentage of state and local per pupil funding; the number of students eligible across the state; and a limit on the total program enrollment or funding. It also measures whether there are restrictions to new schools wishing to participate in the program, and growth in number of pupils enrolled over time to rank the program.

The AFC Growth Fund believes schools should be transparent, of high quality, and accountable to parents and taxpayers. These accountability characteristics require common sense administrative, academic, and financial responsibility prerequisites.

The program criteria involves scholarship tax credit features as well. Scholarship funds are granted to families by a state agency through a voucher plan. Under scholarship tax credit programs, businesses and individuals donate to nonprofit Scholarship Organizations (SOs), also called Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs), or School Tuition Organizations (SGOs).

Currently, there are five Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) models. Three of the existing five ESA plans are only for students with exceptional needs and were not included in this AFC tool. Parents in states where these savings programs are available can receive funds in an account to be used for approved educational expenses.

The AFC report card ranks 27 active non-special needs voucher, scholarship tax credit, and education savings account programs against the ideal standards for quality programs. The top five programs were: the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (scholarship tax credit program); the Nevada Educational Choice Scholarship Program (scholarship tax credit program); the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program (voucher program); the North Carolina Opportunity Scholarship Program (voucher program); and the Louisiana Tuition Donation Rebate Program (scholarship tax credit program):

“The 2016/17 Report Card highlights the success of programs and discusses ways each program can improve to better serve students,” said Whitney Marcavage, author of the report and policy director of the American Federation for Children.