OLR Research Report

April 14, 2010




By: Emilee Mooney Scott, Legislative Fellow

You asked whether other states have voucher programs similar to the one currently under consideration in the Illinois General Assembly. You also asked if states other than Illinois are considering voucher programs.


On March 25, 2010, the Illinois State Senate passed Senate Bill 2494 and sent it to the Illinois State House for consideration. The bill sets forth “a pilot school choice program for students enrolled in the lowest performing schools in Chicago, with the potential to expand elsewhere in Illinois…” If the proposal is enacted, it would provide elementary and middle school students from Chicago schools in the bottom 10% of test scores with vouchers to attend other public or private schools.

Several states have school voucher programs. The District of Columbia, Ohio, Louisiana, and Wisconsin each have voucher programs that target urban or poorly performing school districts, as the Illinois proposal does. We have provided details on the District of Columbia, Ohio, Louisiana, and Wisconsin programs below. The pro-voucher advocacy group the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice published a detailed report that covers other types of school choice programs (ABCs of School Choice). In addition, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee are also considering school voucher programs during this legislative session.


Several other states have school voucher programs. Maine and Vermont have longstanding voucher programs for students in rural districts without public schools at the student's grade level. Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Utah have voucher programs for students with autism or other special needs. (The National Conference of State Legislatures, though the Deseret News reported on February 26 that Utah's program is at risk because of budget cuts.)

Three states and the District of Columbia have programs that provide vouchers to children in low-performing districts.

District of Columbia

In 2003, Congress passed the DC School Choice Incentive Act, which provided school vouchers of up to $7,500 to children with family incomes at or below 185% of the federal poverty level. The program is not currently accepting new students, and it will expire without Congressional reauthorization (Washington Scholarship Fund).


In 2008, the Louisiana State Legislature established the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program. To be eligible, a child must reside within Orleans Parish, must be entering kindergarten through Grade 5, and (unless just starting kindergarten) must have been enrolled during the previous school year in a public school designated as academically unacceptable by the state. In addition, the child's family must have a family income of less than 250% of the federal poverty level (LA Dept. of Ed.)


Ohio has two separate school voucher programs for low-performing districts. The Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program provides vouchers to Cleveland students in kindergarten to Grade 8. All students are eligible to apply, but priority is given to low income students. The voucher covers either 75% or 90% of the school's actual tuition, up to a total of $3,450, depending on family income (families at or below 200% of the federal poverty line receive the 90% voucher, other families receive the 75% voucher) (Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program Fact Sheet, available from OH Dept. of Ed.).

The EdChoice Program awards up to 14,000 vouchers per year to students in districts that have been rated poorly by the state for two of the past three years. Children eligible for the Cleveland program are not eligible for EdChoice. The EdChoice Scholarship amount is currently $4,250 for elementary school students (kindergarten through grade 8) and $5,000 for high school students (grades 9 through 12) or the private school's actual tuition amount, whichever is lower (EdChoice Fact Sheet, available from OH Dept. of Ed.).


The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program has been in operation since the early 1990s. It provides vouchers of $6,442 or the private school's operating and debt service cost per student, whichever is less, to eligible Milwaukee students. To be eligible, a student's family must be at or below 175% of the federal poverty level at the time of application, and family income may not rise above 220% of the federal poverty level (Milwaukee Parental Choice Program FAQ, available from WI Dept. of Public Instruction).


In the current legislative session, school voucher bills have been introduced in Georgia (SB 90), Oklahoma (SB 1922), and Tennessee (HB 7022). The voucher bills in Oklahoma and Tennessee include family income limits, but there does not appear to be an income limit in the Georgia bill. The current bill text and status are available through the state legislatures' various bill tracking systems, which are linked. In addition, the pro-voucher advocacy group The Foundation for Educational Choice maintains a website that tracks school choice legislation (http://www.edchoice.org/schoolchoice/ShowLegislation.do).