1. Private School Choice

Michigan should adopt a private school choice program similar to the one used in Florida. This program could be a tuition tax credit similar to the one already proposed by Mackinac Center analysts.[41]

Private school choice programs in Florida have been shown through rigorous research to have positive impacts on student achievement. Nine studies have examined the impact of the A-Plus Program’s voucher component, and all nine find public schools in Florida improved — particularly the lowest-performing ones — as a result of Florida’s voucher program. A 2008 study also demonstrated that public schools improved as a result of the availability of vouchers for students with disabilities under the McKay Scholarship Program. A study of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program yielded a similar result.[42]

Hence, these private school choice programs had a broad effect on Florida’s school system by requiring all public schools to accept a new level of accountability. The choice programs, which began in 2001, were also among the earlier reforms enacted in Florida.

Private school choice options inject a high level of competition and responsiveness into a public school system by providing highly dynamic and decentralized incentives for schools to better meet families’ educational needs. Parents are empowered to hold schools — especially for schools that are performing poorly — accountable for the actual services they provide their individual children. No other reform mentioned below places such localized pressure on schools to improve.

Unfortunately, Florida’s private school options cannot be immediately adopted in Michigan due to a 1970 amendment to the Michigan Constitution. Article 8, Section 2, of the state constitution explicitly prohibits the use of tuition vouchers or scholarships financed by tax credits for the purpose of educating students in private elementary and secondary schools.[*]

The Michigan Legislature should consider presenting the people with a proposed constitutional amendment that would overturn this prohibition.[†] The legality of well-crafted private school choice programs is no longer a concern under the federal constitution: Both vouchers and tuition tax credits have passed legal challenges in the United States Supreme Court.[43]

It is reasonable to assume that the tuition tax credit program that has been described in detail by Mackinac Center analysts would likewise pass muster with the Supreme Court. The Legislature could implement such a tax credit program following popular repeal of Article 8, Section 2.

[*] Mich Const 1963, Article 8, Section 2.

[†] The power of “legislative proposal” to amend the state constitution is provided in Mich Const 1963, Article 12, Section 1. While both vouchers and tax credits can provide children with money for tuition and other expenses at private schools, there are advantages to tax credits. Anderson et al., “The Universal Tuition Tax Credit: A Proposal to Advance Parental Choice in Education,” (Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 1997), 27-30, http://goo.gl/Mk404 (accessed April 2, 2013); Andrew Coulson, “Giving Credit Where It’s Due: Why Tax Credits Are Better Than Vouchers,” The Independent Review VII, no. 2 (2002) http://goo.gl/6ZWI8 (accessed April 2, 2013). A model constitutional amendment and statutory considerations for a tuition tax credit program in Michigan are discussed by Mackinac Center analysts in Anderson et al., “The Universal Tuition Tax Credit: A Proposal to Advance Parental Choice in Education,” (Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 1997), 33-40, http://goo.gl/Mk404 (accessed April 2, 2013).

[41] Patrick L. Anderson et al., “The Universal Tuition Tax Credit: A Proposal to Advance Parental Choice in Education,” (Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 1997), http://goo.gl/Mk404 (accessed April 2, 2013).

[42] Greg Forster, “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Vouchers,” (The Foundation for Educational Choice, 2011), 17-23, http://goo.gl/A5yhE (accessed June 4, 2013).

[43] Zelman v Simmons-Harris, 536 US 639 (2002); Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v Winn, 563 US ___, 131 SCt 1436 (2011).