Recent, ongoing huge improvements in the quality and accessibility of online instruction have changed school choice advocates’ avoidance of the “V-word” (tuition vouchers) from a dubious rhetorical practice to a good idea. Even without the stigma achieved by school choice opponents, tuition vouchers were never the favorite policy of all advocates of much increased private school choice. Until recently, the main private school choice policy alternative to tuition vouchers has been tuition tax credits. The main advantages of tax credits over vouchers are less vulnerability to court challenge and reduced vulnerability to increased regulation of private schools.
Arizona’s limited eligibility Education Savings Account (ESA) law made a universal version of that approach into a credible alternative to tuition vouchers and tuition tax credits. ESAs get annual or monthly deposits of state funds that eligible families can spend on approved schooling expenses. Families can use the ESA money to customize instruction for their eligible children through one or more instruction providers. Tax credits have the same effect when they offset a mixture of schooling expenses.
The now widespread availability of online instruction and the potential for “blended learning” is what has made the tuition voucher a less attractive policy compared to comparably universal, comparably funded tuition tax credits and ESAs. Blended learning means a customized mix of online and face-to-face instruction; something highly likely to be the best choice for a lot of children. Tuition vouchers lack the flexibility of tax credits and ESAs. Tuition vouchers have to be submitted to a single provider of schooling. Unless that provider offers blended learning, voucher users must choose between online instruction and face-to-face instruction.
So, rather than avoid the v-word by pretending that tuition vouchers are really “scholarships” even though there is no academic ability criterion, avoid it by choosing tuition tax credits or ESAs as the policy vehicle to financially facilitate private school choice.