School choice is a controversial issue in Texas and in the U.S. more generally. Programs such as school vouchers aim to give parents the option of selecting a private school, with public per-pupil funding following the student to offset the costs of private education and to put pressure on public schools that lose students and their associated funds. Despite the growing body of evidence on the effects of programs such as charter schools and traditional school vouchers, little attention has been paid to emerging forms of school choice, such as education tax credit programs and education savings accounts (or ESAs)—“neo-vouchers,” despite a growing state preference for these forms of school choice. The Texas legislature, for example, has proposed these types of programs each session for several years and, although they have failed in the past, under a new federal climate in favor of private school choice, with the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary, the politics may be shifting. It is essential to assess the evidence on such choice programs, as they have important implications not only for the students who participate, but also for the sustainability of our public-school system more generally. This lecture will explore the rise of education tax credit programs in the U.S. First, the speaker will detail the origin of tax credits and the types of existing plans. Second, he will review the assumptions underlying the supposed advantages that may favor tax credits as a feasible alternative to vouchers—what some scholars have called “neo-vouchers.” Third, he will analyze legal, political, and policy implications of this form of school choice, reviewing recent evidence from research on tax credit programs and analyzing new evidence collected by the speaker. Although education tax credit plans may be more widely accepted than education vouchers, substantial obstacles may still restrict their implementation, with implications for public schools, democratic goals of education, and student outcomes.
Luis Huerta, PhD is associate professor of Education and Public Policy at Columbia University, at Teachers College. He received his PhD in Policy, Organizations, Measurement, and Evaluation at the University of California, Berkeley. His research and scholarship focus on school choice reforms and school finance policy. His research on school choice reforms examines policies that advance both decentralized and market models of schooling—including charter schools, homeschooling, tuition tax credits, vouchers and virtual/cyber schools. His research also examines school finance policy and research with a specific focus on how legal and legislative battles over finance equity in schools and the research that has analyzed the effects of resources on student achievement, have consistently overlooked how resources are used within schools. His research has been published widely in scholarly journals and books, including: Educational Policy, Journal of Education Finance, Teachers College Record, Peabody Journal of Education, Journal of Education Policy, and Phi Delta Kappan. He recently served as co-editor of the highly ranked education policy journal, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. His research and commentary has been featured widely in the national print media, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The London Times, and Education Week. He has also testified before the Texas Legislature on issues related to school choice, educational savings accounts, and tuition tax credits.