AU Letter from Nikolas Nartowicz on Senate Bill 612

January 29, 2018

Re: Oppose SB 612 – Tuition Tax Credits (Vouchers) Are Bad Education Policy
Dear Senator:

On behalf of the Missouri chapters, members, and supporters of Americans United for
Separation of Church and State, I write to express our opposition to SB 612. This bill creates a
tuition tax credit (TTC) program—also known as a private school voucher—that will be used
to subsidize private school education for students with disabilities, children of military
parents, and adoptive children. In addition to the fact that voucher programs simply don’t
work, this bill should be rejected because it violates the Missouri Constitution.

Voucher Programs Don’t Work
We support the goal of improving educational opportunities for students, but voucher
programs are counterproductive. They do not improve education, but instead are often tied
to decreased academic achievement and resources. In fact, studies of the Indiana,[1]
Louisiana[2], and Ohio[3] voucher programs revealed that students who used vouchers actually
performed worse on standardized tests than their peers not in voucher programs.

Vouchers also lack accountability. Under SB 612, for example, schools that accept vouchers
need not administer Missouri Assessment Program exams that public schools must give4 nor
must they obtain accreditation.[5] Voucher schools also do not provide the same rights and
protections to students as public schools, such as those in Titles IV and VI of the Civil Rights
Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, and the Every Student Succeeds Act.
And, students who attend private schools using vouchers are stripped of First Amendment,
due process, and other constitutional and statutory rights guaranteed to them in public

SB 612 Strips Rights from the Students It Asserts to Help
SB 612 steers students with disabilities to private schools, yet those schools would not be
required to adhere to the federal civil rights laws that protect those students. The Individuals
with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that students with disabilities are provided
with Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) that is tailored to their individual needs.

Students who leave public schools with a voucher forfeit many of the protections provided to
students under IDEA because they are considered parentally placed in private schools and
lose the quality and quantity of services available to students in public schools, including
those mandated under each student’s individualized education program (IEP). As a result,
students with disabilities have been systematically excluded from voucher programs around
the country.[6]

For instance, most private schools in the Milwaukee voucher program have been found to
“lack the full complement of educational programs that students with disabilities are entitled
to if they receive their education in the public sector.”[7] As a result, students with disabilities
have been discouraged or excluded from participating.[8] A 2010 US Department of Education
report on the Washington, DC voucher program showed that a main reason why students
didn’t use a voucher offered to them was that they were unable to find a participating school
with services for their learning or physical disability or other special needs. [9]

Private school vouchers also do not effectively serve military-connected students. School
districts serving military dependent children, and the students themselves, face unique
challenges, such as the emotional stress that children and families face when a parent is
deployed. These challenges are recognized by public school districts, which offer a complex
system of support, including professional development for school counselors to ensure a safe
and healthy learning environment. In fact, the Military Interstate Children’s Compact, which
is an agreement among states and school districts that “addresses key educational transition
issues encountered by military families including enrollment, placement, attendance,
eligibility, and graduation,”[10] does not extend to non-public schools. By using vouchers, these
students would forfeit the benefits and services they would receive in public schools.

The Missouri Constitution Prohibits Public Funds from Flowing to Private Schools
Three separate Missouri state constitutional provisions[11] explicitly prohibit the state from
funding teachers of religion, religious schools, and religious education. Each protects
religious freedom by ensuring that state cannot compel any citizen to furnish funds in
support of a religion with which he or she disagrees, or even a religion with which he or she
does agree. SB 612, however, would permit the Missouri government to indirectly fund
religious schools and education.

In a discussion of Article IX, section 8, a U.S. District Court in Missouri concluded—and the
United States Supreme Court affirmed its interpretation—that “[b]y their State Constitution,
the people of Missouri have decided that they will not permit the use of state funds, directly
or indirectly, in aid of religion or religious institutions. These provisions expressing the public
policy of Missouri, are a bar to any financial assistance,”[12] including tuition tax credits like
those in SB 612 that would fund religious schools.

Tax benefits constitute indirect public funding prohibited by the Constitution: when the state
gives a tax credit, the government forgoes income for the benefit of the religious school.
Indeed, the tax credit proposed in SB 612 operates like a direct transfer of taxpayer funds
away from the public education fund and into private hands, often to pay for religious

For all of the above reasons, Americans United opposes SB 612. I have enclosed with this
letter three documents for a fuller explanation of why vouchers do not work: (1) a general
overview of the problems associated with vouchers; (2) an explanation of the harms
vouchers cause to students with disabilities; and (3) an explanation of the harms vouchers
cause for military-connected students. Thank you for your consideration on this important

Nikolas Nartowicz
State Legislative Counsel
Americans United for Separation of Church and State

[1] Kevin Carey, Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins, New York Times, Feb. 23, 2017
[2] Morgan Winsor, Louisiana’s Controversial Voucher Program Harms Poor Students, Lowers Grades, New Study Finds,
International Business Times, Jan. 10, 2016
[3] David Figlio and Krzysztof Karbownik, Evaluation of Ohio’s EdChoice Scholarship Program: Selection, Competition, and
Performance Effects 32, Fordham Institute, Jul. 2016
[4] Missouri private school students are not subject to the same statewide assessments public school students, and SB 612
does not require schools that accept vouchers to administer statewide tests. See Mo. Rev. Stat. §160.518
[5] U.S. Dep’t of Educ., State Regulation of Private Schools 326-27, Jul. 2009
[6] US Gov’t Accountability Office, Private School Choice: Federal Actions Needed to Ensure Parents Are Notified About
Changes in Rights for Students with Disabilities, Pub. No. 18-94 at 22-23, Nov. 30, 2017
[7] Patrick J. Wolf et al., School Choice Demonstration Project, Univ. of Ark., Special Education and the Milwaukee Parental
Choice Program 17 (2012)
[8] Ultimately, the Department of Justice had to act, requiring Wisconsin to implement policies and practices to eliminate
discrimination against students with disabilities in its administration of the Milwaukee program. Letter to Tony Evers,
State Superintendent, Wisc. Dep’t of Pub. Instruction, from U.S. Dep’t of Justice, Civil Rights Div., Educ. Opportunities
Section, Apr. 9, 2013
[9] U.S. Dep’t of Educ., Evaluation of the D.C. Scholarship Program: Final Report 24-26, June 2010. According to the report,
21.6% of parents who rejected a voucher that their child was offered did so because the school lacked the special needs
services that their child needed, and 12.3% of the parents who accepted a voucher for their child but then left the
program cited a lack of special needs services at the school they had chosen.
[10] Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission, About MIC3,
[11] Mo. Const. art. I, §6, art. I, §7, art. IX, §8
[12] Brusca v. State of Mo. ex rel. State Bd. of Ed., 332 F. Supp. 275, 276–77 (E.D. Mo. 1971), aff’d sub nom. Brusca v. State Bd.