Below are a series of graphs of the distribution of enrollments and average total expenditures for Texas private schools. I figure these are particularly relevant as the Texas legislature entertains the idea of providing vouchers for private schools in Texas. These data, unfortunately, are from a few years back – based on 2008 IRS tax filings of private schools. Further, because I used IRS filings to determine expenditures, certain groups of schools – most notably Catholic schools – are noticeably underrepresented in the financial analysis. That said, I was able to compile sufficient data on relatively large numbers of Independent Schools (about 75% of all nationally) and Christian Schools (nearly 1/3… not great, but reasonable numbers). Those two groups of schools represent a significant share of Texas private school enrollments.
Here’s the punchline from these graphs. If we have any expectation that a voucher program is going to provide religious neutrality in access to private schooling or to provide sufficient opportunity to attend high quality non-religious, private independent schools, then voucher levels likely need to be much higher than commonly recommended. This then raises the key policy question – if the vouchers would have to be much higher than the average current public school expenditure – and the outcomes unknown – why would we adopt such a policy?
As the larger study (link) below shows, private schools are not uniformly/systematically “cheaper” and/or “better” than public schools. Rather, they vary widely and there are substantive differences in the programs (class size, etc.) and teacher characteristics in low spending versus high spending private schools.
Further, it is important to consider NOT the TUITION, but the actual per pupil expenditures of schools that are expected to enroll voucher students. Schools will (and can) only absorb so much loss per child, just as they do when setting tuition & financial aid policy while cognizant of their program cost structures. And, as voucher enrollment shares of total enrollments increase, shares of enrollments of families likely (and able) to contribute significantly to annual funds (to offset operating gaps) decreases (a potentially vicious cycle of financial decline).
That out of the way… here are the Texas numbers:
Far more information on the data used here and their policy implications can be found here: http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/private-schooling-US