A Look at the Lowest Ranking Programs in AFC’s School Choice Guidebook

Since AFC’s School Choice Guidebook release on October 3, we’ve gotten a lot of questions about Guidebook rankings and how state programs are scored.

So I want to focus this blog on the two lowest-ranked programs and discuss what their respective states might do to improve those programs. After all, the Guidebook is first and foremost a tool for legislators and other stakeholders to advocate for the best possible school choice programs in their states. Ideally, we want all programs to meet their unique community needs while also implementing policy provisions that have led to strong and respective programs nationwide.

To that end, here are the lowest ranked voucher and tax credit scholarship programs:

Let’s take a look at each of these programs and discuss some of their strengths and areas for potential improvement the 2019 legislative sessions.

Kansas’ Tax Credit for Low-Income Students Scholarship Program scored low in three categories: student eligibility, program and scholarship size, and accountability. With regard to student eligibility, Kansas has two measures that significantly reduce the number of students who can participate in the program – it requires that family income not be above the federal free-or-reduced price lunch guidelines and that students must have attended a failing school in order to receive a tax credit scholarship. Partially as a result of this, and also as a result of the very low average scholarship amount, less than .07% of 5- to 17-year-old students in the state participate in this program. What’s more, this tax credit scholarship program has almost none of the school accountability measures AFC recommends. On a positive note, the Kansas program does require that scholarship granting organizations submit detailed financial reports to the State Board of Education each year, which helps to ensure that these organizations are fiscally sound and providing at least 90% of contributions for student scholarships.

Maryland’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) Program also limits student eligibility to students whose families quality for free-or-reduced lunch and also has less than 1% of 5- to 17-year-old students in the state enrolled. The BOOST program also has scholarship amounts that are very low compared with average per-pupil funding in the state. Perhaps because of all this, the BOOST program has been very slow to grow, and has grown at a rate that is significantly slower than that of other voucher programs in their second year. (It should be noted that the program is also slow to grow because of significant political pushback.) On a positive note, the BOOST program does require that participating schools administer national, norm-referenced assessments to all students and report the results publicly. But Maryland does not require that schools participating in the BOOST program submit annual financial reports.

We know that there are strong advocates in both Kansas and Maryland fighting for these programs and we look forward to seeing the policy and program improvements they make over the coming year.

If you found this blog interesting, you may also want to read Darrell Allison’s discussion on the significance of the Guidebook rankings. Thanks for your interest in AFC’s 2017-2018 School Choice Guidebook and in learning about the policies that help create strong private school choice programs.