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WHAT DOES $5000 BUY?

Filed at 6:54 pm under by dcobranchi

According to the Cato Institute, a fine private school education. One of the arguments that one sometimes hears against these kinds of studies is that they don’t take into account the fixed costs of education (e.g., maintaining the buildings, paying the light bill, etc.) We currently spend somewhere around $8600 per student per year. According to this Census Bureau report (page 19), “Operation and Maintenance” account for ~10% of total education spending. So, a $5000 voucher should be eminently achievable. Here’s the Cato press release (thanks to Isabel Lyman for the nudge).

August 28, 2003

$5,000 school vouchers would give most students access to quality private schools

Average elementary private school tuition per student is less than $3,500, much less than public schools spend

WASHINGTON–For over 20 years, education experts, teachers, and parents have pressed for the introduction of market forces into the American primary and secondary education system, citing the lack of competition and consumer choice as the key reason so many of America’s public schools are failing. Critics of school vouchers often respond that offering vouchers as an alternative to public education is unworkable because they do not cover the perceived high costs of a private school education. However, according to a new Cato Institute Policy Analysis, “What Does a Voucher Buy? A Closer Look at the Cost of Public Schools,” a $5,000 voucher or tax credit would give students access to most private schools because the average cost of elementary private school tuition is only $3,500.

Author David F. Salisbury, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, surveyed private schools in six large- and mid-sized American cities: Charleston, New Orleans, Denver, Houston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., places where school choice legislation has been recently implemented or is currently being considered. He found that the majority of private elementary schools charged $5,000 or less per student per year. Although they were not in the majority, in each city there were also private secondary whose annual tuition was less than $5,000.

Interestingly, 45 of 62 private elementary schools in Washington, D.C. charge less per student per year than the District of Columbia Public Schools spends per student. Additionally, lower income cities included in the survey—New Orleans and Philadelphia—have more low-cost than high-cost schools; 93 percent of elementary schools in New Orleans and 89 percent of elementary schools in Philadelphia cost less than $5,000 a year.

Existing school choice programs have already provided evidence that increased benefits and options are available to students after choice programs are implemented. Salisbury notes that “in Florida, for example, where students are able to attend private schools under several choice programs, the number of private schools in the state increased as school choice became more predominant.”

The study clearly shows that in addition to bringing more educational options to interested parents, a well-crafted voucher or tax credit program would more than meet the costs of the average private school. Salisbury concludes that “a voucher or tax credit of $5,000 or more per student would give families the clout they need as consumers . . . . Even a poor child, armed with a voucher of $5,000 could obtain a quality private education in any of the cities [covered in the survey], and the prices of private schools in these municipalities are representative of private school costs around the country.”

Policy Analysis no. 486

Contact:

David Salisbury, director of the Center for Educational Freedom, 202-789-5246, dsalisbury@cato.org
Chris Kilmer, media coordinator, 202-218-4621, ckilmer@cato.org
Evans Pierre, director of broadcasting, 202-789-5204, epierre@cato.org

The Cato Institute is a nonpartisan public policy research foundation dedicated to broadening policy debate consistent with the traditional American principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and peace.

One Response to “WHAT DOES $5000 BUY?”


Comment by
Dean Esmay
August 30th, 2003
at 6:11 am

Of course, some will dismiss that solely because it comes from CATO.

Darn it.