The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

Advancing Milton and Rose D. Friedman's Vision of School Choice for All Children

The Greenfield School Revolution and School Choice

Released: 6/5/2012

Author(s): Greg Forster, Ph.D., James L. Woodworth, M.Ed.

The recent explosion of educational innovation has focused primarily on creating wholly new models of what a school can be. From KIPP to Carpe Diem, education is entering a revolutionary period driven by the reinvention of the entire school rather than by gradual programmatic reforms. Although some of these new models have been more successful than others, and the level of success for any given new model can be debated, there is a growing consensus that these new school models collectively represent a dramatic challenge to the status quo in education.

These “greenfield school models” do not just challenge our assumptions about schooling. They also challenge the assumption that one school model can provide the right education for every child. The public mind has been opened to the potential of educational options as never before.

The nation faces two crucial challenges as we enter this new period. Only a tiny fraction of the promise and potential of greenfield school models has been tapped so far. How can we create far more of these models, with greater variation and more institutional support for innovation? And how is it possible for greenfield school models to create improvement in the vast majority of schools, the “un-reinvented” regular public schools, given that even gradual attempts at programmatic reform within those schools have been ineffective over the past 50 years?

Universal school choice has great potential to meet both of these challenges. Although the private school sector provides structures that should be inviting to entrepreneurs, currently they do not find the private school sector attractive. The “tuition barrier” locks out institutional change; private schools can’t reach out to a large enough base of families seeking different learning environments, because they must charge tuition. By lowering the tuition barrier and allowing private schools to serve new populations, universal choice would provide educational entrepreneurs with dramatically more freedom and support than they currently enjoy even in charter schools. Entrepreneurs would be more free to innovate beyond the confines of the “default” public school model, giving them the ability to truly reinvent the school.

Moreover, universal choice is the only way to create an institutional context in which regular public schools will innovate and improve in response to greenfield school models. Currently, their institutional culture consistently experiences reform efforts as threatening and illegitimate. Because public schools have a captive client base, institutions never see the need for change as urgent; thus, they respond to pressure for change in counterproductive ways. By putting parents back in charge of education, universal school choice would focus the urgency in schools needing change, facilitating the emergence of an institutional culture that would experience reform as legitimate, necessary, and empowering. Enacting a universal choice policy would not by itself create all the necessary changes, but enacting universal choice is a necessary precondition of change.

A large body of high-quality research consistently establishes that school choice has a positive impact on both the students who use it and students in nearby public schools. However, in most cases the size of this impact is moderate.

Existing school choice programs are a far cry from universal choice. They are small, underfunded, and overregulated. The limited size and scope of existing programs make it unreasonable to expect they will drive miraculous changes. It is an open question whether these existing programs provide any support for educational entrepreneurs or greenfield school models.

This study uses descriptive data from the U.S. Department of Education to examine the composition of the private school sector in localities with sizeable school choice programs. If existing school choice programs are attracting educational entrepreneurs and unlocking the potential of new school models, we should expect to see significant changes in the sector’s composition. While the available data do not allow us to examine every aspect of schooling, the founding of new school models ought to produce visible changes in school types, school sizes, and other visible metrics.

However, the data examined here provide little evidence that existing school choice programs are transforming the structure of private schools. In its current form, school choice does not appear to be having an impact that is sufficiently large enough to produce visible transformation of the private school sector. Existing choice programs transfer students from marginally less effective public schools to marginally more effective private schools, but they do not seem to drive more ambitious school reforms.

It appears that universal choice programs are needed before an alliance between school choice and the greenfield school revolution can emerge.


Autism Scholarship Program

Enacted 2003 • Launched 2004

Ohio students on the autism spectrum may receive vouchers for education services from a private provider, including tuition at a private school. After participating students receive education services, they apply to the state for reimbursement of expenses.

Cleveland Scholarship & Tutoring Program

Enacted 1995 • Launched 1996

Parents in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District can receive vouchers to send their children to private school or public schools bordering the school district. No more than half of new recipients may be students previously enrolled in private schools.

Education Deduction

Enacted 1955 • Launched 1955

Minnesota provides a tax deduction covering educational expenses for students in any private or public school, including homeschooling. The tax deduction lowers a family’s taxable income and covers books, tutors, academic after-school programs, and other educational expenses, including tuition payments at private schools.

Educational Choice Scholarship Program

Enacted 2005 • Launched 2006

Ohio students attending chronically low-performing public schools are eligible for “EdChoice” vouchers to attend private schools. The cap on available vouchers is 60,000.

Educational Improvement Tax Credit

Enacted 2001 • Launched 2001

Pennsylvania provides tax credits for corporate contributions to Scholarship Organizations (SOs), nonprofits that provide private school scholarships, or Educational Improvement Organizations, nonprofits that support innovative programs in public schools. Tax credits are worth 75 percent of the contribution; however, a 90 percent credit can be claimed if the corporation commits to two consecutive annual contributions. In either case, the maximum tax credit is $750,000 per company. Credits are awarded to companies on a first-come, first-served basis until the cap is reached. The total amount of tax credits is limited to $100 million.

Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program

Enacted 2001 • Launched 2001

Florida provides a tax credit on corporate income taxes and insurance premium taxes for donations to Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFOs), nonprofits that provide scholarships for low-income students and children in foster care and offer funds for transportation to public schools outside a child’s district. Businesses get a dollar-for-dollar tax credit for SFO contributions, with total credits capped at $286.25 million. Unused credits can be carried forward to the next fiscal year.

Income-Based Scholarship Program

Enacted 2013 • Launched 2013

Income-qualified Ohio kindergartners are eligible for vouchers to attend private schools, provided they are not otherwise eligible for a voucher in Ohio. In future years of the program, the next grade higher will be added each subsequent year.

John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program

Enacted as a Pilot Program 1999 • Expanded 2000

Florida’s John M. McKay Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program allows public school students with disabilities or 504 plans to receive vouchers to attend private schools or other public schools.

Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program

Enacted 2011 • Launched 2012

Ohio parents of children with special needs enrolled in public schools are able to receive vouchers to pay for private school tuition and additional services at private therapists and other service providers. Vouchers can be used at public providers (i.e., school districts) if the district chooses to accept voucher students. The number of vouchers available is capped at 5 percent of the students with special needs statewide.

K-12 Education Credit

Enacted 1997 • Launched 1998

Minnesota provides a tax credit covering educational expenses for students in any private or public school, including homeschooling. The tax credit reduces the family’s total tax liability and covers books, tutors, academic after-school programs, and other non-tuition educational expenses.

Lexie’s Law Corporate Tax Credits

Enacted 2009 • Launched 2009

Arizona allows corporations to receive tax credits for donating to School Tuition Organizations (STOs), nonprofits that provide private school scholarships to children with special needs and students who are currently, or have been at any time, part of the Arizona foster care system. The total credits claimed cannot exceed $5 million in a given year.

Low-Income Corporate Income Tax Credit Scholarship Program

Enacted 2006 • Launched 2006

Arizona provides a credit on corporate income taxes for C-Corporations for donations to School Tuition Organizations (STOs), nonprofits that provide private school scholarships. STOs receiving donations for this program must award scholarships to low-income students. Corporate taxpayers contributing to STOs may claim a tax credit equal to the full amount of their contribution. The program is limited to a total of $35.8 million in available tax credits per year, a figure that is allowed to rise 20 percent annually.

Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

Enacted 1990 • Launched 1990

Milwaukee families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty guidelines qualify to receive vouchers. Once a student receives a voucher, that student is able to keep it, regardless of his or her family’s future income. Voucher students are allowed to attend any participating private school in the state.

Opportunity Scholarship Program

Enacted 2004 • Launched 2004

The District of Columbia’s Opportunity Scholarship Program provides vouchers to low-income students. Overseen by the U.S. Department of Education, the program is funded separately from D.C. public and charter schools. It is authorized through 2016, with $20 million in total available funding.

Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit Program

Enacted 2012 • Launched 2012

Pennsylvania provides tax credits for corporate contributions to Scholarship Organizations (SOs), nonprofits that provide private school scholarships. A company may claim a tax credit worth 75 percent of its contribution (90 percent if it commits to the same amount for two consecutive years). Tax credits are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The total funding amount of tax credits is capped at $50 million. SOs also are required to give preference to students who received scholarships the previous year, those eligible for free and reduced-price lunch (FRL), and FRL students in certain school districts (a “first class” school district, a district with more than 7,500 students that receives an advance of its basic education subsidy, or a school district that has both received an advance of its subsidy and is either in financial distress or is involved in a school finance lawsuit against the state).

Original Individual Income Tax Credit Scholarship Program

Enacted 1997 • Launched 1997

Arizona provides a credit on individual income taxes for donations to School Tuition Organizations (STOs), nonprofits that provide private school scholarships. In the 2014 tax year, individual taxpayers contributing to STOs may claim a dollar-for-dollar credit of up to $528, and married couples filing jointly may claim up to $1,056. The amount an individual can claim for a credit increases each year by the amount the Consumer Price Index changes.


6/21/2012 Accuracy in Academia | Once There Were Greenfields
6/6/2012 Choice Words | The Right Way to Develop Greenfield Schooling
6/5/2012 Limited Choice Doesn’t Support New School Models, Study Finds
6/5/2012 Education Week | In Search of Innovation? Look to Charter Schools, not Privates

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