Education Vouchers vs. Free Market

Education Vouchers vs. Free Market Education

Republicans and Democrats across the country are seeking to pass ESA and education voucher legislation in their states. This has sparked a nationwide debate between education vouchers vs. free market education and whether parents and schools should accept government funding for education.

ESAs & Education Vouchers Over Free Market & Individual Freedom

Join Leigh Bortins and Teryln Gregson on Episode 58 of Faithful Freedom as they discuss how the question really comes down to whether parents and schools will choose government funds over the free market and individual freedom because, as Leigh likes to say, “The king’s coin makes the king’s man.”

After detailing the failings of government schools and the dangers of ESA and school vouchers, Leigh illustrates how there are many other ways for families to educate their children that don’t enslave them to the government’s dime.

One of these ways is through Classical Conversations®, which provides parents with the tools they need to give their children a classical Christian education that teaches them to “name like Adam, ask questions like Jesus, and persuade like Paul.”

Resources to aid your understanding of the issues of ESAs and educational vouchers.

If you are looking for more resources on classical education, consider reading Leigh’s book The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education or visit her website.

Leigh Bortins, free market advocate.

Leigh Bortins

Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of Classical Conversations®

Educator, mother, grandmother, and daughter of the King, Leigh Bortins, is best known for creating lifelong learners through her educational support program, Classical Conversations®, which organizes classical academic communities for homeschooling families. Leigh founded Classical Conversations® (CC) in 1997 to know God and to make Him known through the power of community. CC supports classical Christian homeschoolers in all fifty states and thirty foreign countries, with well over 45,000 families enrolled in the program. After receiving a bachelor of science in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan, Leigh went on to write her Doctor of Ministry thesis on church-based global education for Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She has written several books, including The Core: Teaching Your Child the Foundations of Classical Education, The Question: Teaching Your Child the Essentials of Classical Education, and The Conversation: Challenging Your Student with a Classical Education, a series which explores the classical trivium from a parent’s perspective. Leigh has also authored curriculum and guides for parents and students, including The Math Map, a complete math curriculum for classical students of all ages. She enjoys speaking at conferences, to organizations, and on radio shows and podcasts to promote free-market education, and she also enjoys encouraging parents to take ownership of their children’s education. Leigh engages thought leaders, institutions, and families to develop both minds and souls through her enthusiasm. Leigh and her husband, Rob, homeschooled their four sons in North Carolina and now enjoy watching their three grandchildren become lifelong learners alongside their parents.

School Choice and Your Child's Tuition

Vouchers, School Choice, And Your Child’s Tuition

By Edward Murray

School choice has been a debated topic for many years, and while you might think it’s a good thing, there are compelling reasons to reconsider. Although it is sometimes difficult to determine causation from correlation, there is the potential-future issue of inflating tuition rates due to state funding. Consider St. Paul Catholic school in St. Petersburg, Florida, which recently explicitly stated that they would raise the price of admission with the new voucher program. 

St. Paul Catholic School at 1900 12th St. N in St. Petersburg is one of many private schools expected to take advantage of Florida's expanded voucher program this year.
St. Paul Catholic School at 1900 12th St. N in St. Petersburg is one of many private schools expected to take advantage of Florida’s expanded voucher program this year.

On the face of it, one would think that state funding to aid families’ migration to the free market would be a positive. Of course, from that statement alone, it’s obvious that anything state-funded can’t be a free market; these are diametrically opposed ideas. But just for argument’s sake, let’s consider the prevailing idea that more money given yields more opportunity for choice.

Wouldn’t this bring costs down? Likewise, shouldn’t all U.S. families be on board with vouchers, ESAs, tax credits, and the like?

For some time now, many in the home and private school world have been sounding the alarm on these so-called school-choice policies. The primary issue raised concerns parental autonomy vs. state accountability (tantamount to coerced regulation). Let’s face it, when any policy is put on the books for spending, rarely does the growth of regulation shrink or go away. It typically grows. Regulation always follows funding.

And we want it that way, right? If the government is going to spend our tax dollars, don’t we want them to track the money and assure us it is spent responsibly? Again, this regulation over parental choice is the very reason why private options exist.

State-Funded “Choice” Will Inevitably Inflate the Cost of Private Education

However, there is another principle that private educators warn of: State-funded “choice” will inevitably inflate the cost of private education.

Consider the fact that all organizations need money to sustain their work, whether for the short or the long-term. As long as decisions don’t sink the buyability of a product, given the opportunity, companies will consider how better to fund their work.

This is exactly what is happening with St. Paul Catholic in Florida. After Gov. DeSantis (R) signed into law the state’s newest voucher program, representatives of the school stated,

“…we decided that we need to take maximum advantage of this dramatically expanded funding source. So instead of paying $6,000 per child, families at the school who are St. Paul parish members will now be charged $10,000 per child. Nonmembers will be charged $12,000 per child, instead of $7,000. Discounts for multiple-student families will be eliminated. Based on those numbers, and factoring in the $4,000 tuition increase, St. Paul could bring in nearly $1 million more in the school year starting this fall. Voucher critics said the decision was predictable, and expected more private schools to follow suit…”

Of course, one might argue that this still mitigates the cost of the program (likely only to aid families who can still afford it), and this would be true… at least for the present. However, keep in mind the annual increases in private K-12 and higher education.

From my experience working in higher ed. (public and private) …not only does tuition tend to increase every year, but institutional administrators always also factor in going rates for other similar institutions competitive in the same fields. Also, keep in mind that it isn’t necessarily popular to gravitate towards the cheaper education option. Rather, many opt for the more expensive programs because cost often indicates quality (i.e., people reason, “the greater the cost, the better the education”).

Moreover, even if tuition doesn’t appear to increase on the surface, an increase in tuition paid might occur even if the sticker face remains unchanged. These increased, hidden dollars are typically reflected in other ancillary fees and like charges.

Currently, it can be a little hard to examine the U.S. statistics due to the infancy of these programs.[1] However, many who claim that there is no data for inflation should rather backtrack that notion. Barnum notes that some school choice programs (ones with unrestricted subsidies) “lead to price increases yet no change in enrollment…” He continues, “…private schools did not admit additional students, but did raise tuition — by an amount the researchers estimated to be roughly the same as the public subsidy.”[2]

Consider Ty Rushing, who recently reported how Iowa’s private schools hiked their tuitions in response to Gov. Kim Reynold’s (R) voucher-ESA plan.

“While some private schools introduced minimal tuition increases—Holy Trinity Catholic School in Fort Madison increased tuition by less than a percent for parish members and about 3% for non-parish members—others swung for the fences including one Dubuque school that increased tuition by 40%, or an Anamosa school that literally doubled tuition.[3]

Of course, I don’t blame them for wanting to better their programs, increase their functionality, and provide adequate salaries for teachers. But one can’t deny the obvious connection. Brian Mudd (who denies the connection) even argues,

“In attempting to discern what the impact of school vouchers may mean for tuition rates it’s helpful to see how much capacity there is within the exiting private schools as it’s unlikely rates would be increased unless they’re at capacity with demand outstripping supply.”[4]

Yet, this is exactly the state of hundreds of private institutions needing to made ends meet.

At the end of all this, maybe St. Paul’s decision doesn’t seal the deal for many to correllate state funds and increasing tuition. Yet, the argument is not without warrant. It is worth everyone’s consideration, especially those who grasp the current political climate, who understand the dangers of our ever-increasing debt, and who are concerned with expanding government overreach (which is embedded in all our collective COVID-19 trauma).

Tuition is going to keep increasing, because they’re going to keep raising the voucher amount.”

Holly Bullard, Chief Strategy Officer for Florida Policy Institute

Holly Bullard, Chief Strategy Officer for Florida Policy Institute, states, “Tuition is going to keep increasing, because they’re going to keep raising the voucher amount.” With many raising the alarm, we should all heed the caution and prepare for tax increases to pay for these schemes. 

For more on this issue, see Enright, Marsha Familiaro, “I Run a Private School and am Against School Vouchers. Here’s Why.” Foundation for Economic Education, May 19, 2019.

See also, “ESAs: What You Need to Know with Israel Wayne.” Refining Rhetoric, Episode 31. Feb. 1, 2023.


[1] Hungerman and Rinz (Notre Dame and NBER) cite a study by Angrist, Bettinger, Bloom, King, and Kremer (2002), who find that winning a lottery in Bogot ́a for a voucher worth $190 raised average private school tuition and fees by $52 so that every dollar of voucher funding raised tuition and fees by about 27 cents, close to what the point estimate here suggests (vouchers worth $820 per user on average increase per-student revenue by $280 at baseline, or about 34 cents per dollar spent on vouchers).

[2] Barnum, Matt, “Do vouchers actually expand school choice? Not necessarily — it depends on how they’re designed.” Chalkbeat, June 20, 2017. https://www.chalkbeat.org/2017/7/30/21107261/do-vouchers-actually-expand-school-choice-not-necessarily-it-depends-on-how-they-re-designed

[3] Rushing, Ty, “Kim Reynold’s Private School Voucher Plan Led to Tuition Hikes.” Iowa Starting Line, May 12, 2023. https://iowastartingline.com/2023/05/12/kim-reynolds-private-school-voucher-plan-led-to-tuition-hikes/

[4] Mudd, Brian, “Q&A: Will Florida’s Universal School Choice Plan Raise Tuition Rates?” News Radio WJNO, iHeart.com. May 28, 2023. https://wjno.iheart.com/featured/brian-mudd/content/2023-03-28-qa-will-floridas-universal-school-choice-plan-raise-tuition-rates/

Edward Murray profile headshot

Edward Murray currently serves as Manager of Special Projects and Policy Research for Classical Conversations® and The Homeschool Freedom Action Center. He is a native of Augusta, GA, and an alumnus of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC, where he earned his M.Div. He lives in Newport News, VA, with his wife and three children.

School Choice has Come to Louisiana

School Choice Has Come To Louisiana

By Jennifer Bright

Each year, more and more states are embracing school choice options through education savings accounts (ESAs) and school voucher legislation. Alabama was the first state to pass a universal school choice bill in 2024! Louisiana will not be far behind as it is being debated this week in the Louisiana Senate.

As private homeschoolers in Louisiana, why should we be concerned about ESAs or school voucher legislation? Statistically, Louisiana has always been near or at the bottom in education as compared to the other fifty states. For example, in 2023, Louisiana ranked 46th. The question that is often asked is, why wouldn’t we support these school choice options? Wouldn’t ESAs help lift Louisiana students from the bottom?

School Choice

‘School choice’ is often referred to as educational choice, educational options, parent choice, etc., in which taxpayer-funded monies are channeled through school vouchers, educational savings accounts, educational empowerment scholarships, tax credits, etc., (which sound and look enticing) for parents to choose the educational option that they believe is best for their child(ren). Louisiana’s version, the Giving All True Opportunity to Rise (LA GATOR) scholarship program, is being decided this week at the capital.

Government Monies—Government Regulation

As with all government monies, there will be regulations, rules, accountability, and control. Currently, 13% of Louisiana school districts receive their funding from the Federal Government, and the rest is divided between the state’s budget and our local sales and property taxes.

How will this new legislation affect private homeschoolers in Louisiana? From HB 745, section 4037.5. (Schools and service providers; eligibility; participation), private homeschoolers who register either as a home study program or a nonpublic school not seeking state approval are not eligible to participate or concurrently enroll in the LA GATOR scholarship program. The LA GATOR scholarship program sets up a new class of government-funded students, just like Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Accounts. So currently, private homeschoolers will not be affected.

            “When parents take these funds, they sign a statement that they are no longer homeschooling, even if they may be educating at home. As a result, accepting ESA funds places the student in a new category as an ESA student. Because students are no longer privately funded homeschool students, but instead publicly funded ESA students, government regulation inevitably follows and impacts the education these students receive.”[1]

It may not affect private homeschoolers today, it could in the future. The current bill requires all students who participate in the LA GATOR scholarship program to comply with all program requirements (including yearly testing). But what about next year or the year after, how will the government change or modify the program requirements?

Other States’ ESA Programs and Problems

Let’s look at a couple of other states that have drunk from the well of ESAs, like  Arizona and West Virginia. Budgets have blown up! There is an administrative nightmare and a lack of accountability. Politicians and educational leaders are looking for solutions to fix the failed experiment.

Resist the Temptation

As Leigh Bortins shares in this article,

            Parents are presented with “choices” that aren’t really choices at all.” And “Receiving one-time government money with no strings attached makes the second, third, and fourth times easier with strings attached. With the shekels come the shackles.” So, “we must…resist the temptation posed by government funding.”

Educate Yourself

Think through these questions from Classical Conversations® Educational Freedom website, as you consider who do you want to control your homeschool—you or the government?

  • Do you want the state involved in your homeschooling on any level?
  • Is accepting any financial assistance from the state a slippery slope?
  • Where does the money come from?
  • Would it be more beneficial for homeschoolers to keep their education tax money rather than fund the Department of Education with that money?
  • In your state, are you still classified and protected as a homeschooler if you receive government funding?
  • Is making your own curriculum decisions important to you, or would you prefer the Department of Education to assume oversight in those decisions?
  • What historical examples can you think of where the government was involved in decisions like this? What were the initial intentions? Were the outcomes positive or negative, and how accurately did they reflect those initial intentions?

In Louisiana, there are currently over 45,000 children being home educated. If we were our own school district, we would be the second largest in the state! Just remember, the state government (and federal) will do whatever it can to bring us under its control, and ESAs are just one of their avenues. We need to stand firm against any governmental encroachment on our freedoms to direct our children’s education. We, as parents, know what is best for our children.

The Homeschool Freedom Action Center website is here to help you stay informed and to help families educate themselves on what true educational freedom is!

Jennifer Bright profile headshot

Jennifer Bright is the Communication Manager for Research and Quality Assurance for Classical Conversations. Jennifer’s passions are classical Christian education and discipling the next generation to live for Christ. She supports homeschool families by tutoring their students with the classical tools of learning. Jennifer and her husband began their homeschool journey almost 20 years ago in Russia while serving as missionaries, and currently, they reside in Covington, Louisiana.


[1] “Educational Savings Account.” Accessed 4/15/2024. https://classicalconversations.widen.net/s/swkgl26rw7?__hstc=87463879.1d548548b58a4ef2d8bb0d564a005567.1638826400930.1670868123213.1670943201710.270&__hssc=&__hsfp=&hsCtaTracking=d9ec90d4-0a2d-4d25-bcbb-c8c3b64bb33d%7Cbc6a2c98-eeed-4bdf-adba-2ef77c9a312a

School Choice Isn’t School Choice: My Argument

By Lauren Gideon

I recently wrapped up a year leading Challenge A with Classical Conversations® students. On the last day of community, the students took turns reading their assigned persuasive essays. While each student chose their topic, two had chosen the same topic. 

But they chose different sides!  

After the second student finished reading his essay, arguing opposite the first, do you know what happened? Absolutely nothing! The entire class sat unfazed. They didn’t rush to take sides; they didn’t vote against or ‘cancel’ the minority opinions… no name-calling, and no identity crises. These students haven’t been taught to be offended.  

Look at the Merits of an Idea

They have been taught to look at the merits of an idea as a distinct thing, regardless of the person, their character, their tribe, their emotions, their perceived urgency, and the many other distractions that keep us from discerning the idea’s own merit. We call these logical fallacies, and our students learn how to set them aside and ask, “Is this a good idea?”  

The students’ non-reaction was profound. As adults in the classroom of the world, we know participants are almost always triggered. Public discourse revolves around every angle EXCEPT actual merit. If we want to be virtuous participants in this sphere, we must ask ourselves, “In what way do I need to remove similar logs from my own eyes?” With log-less vision, we can see issues more clearly. 

Another hindrance to our clear vision is social cliques, is when everyone in our perceived tribe seems unified in their position, our objectivity becomes blurred. A prominent topic plagued with this emotional baggage is “school choice.”

School choice has nothing to do with providing more choices. Its singular operative action is to require taxpayers to fund alternatives to the state-provided option.

School Choice is Misleading

Some advocates of “school choice” begin their appeal through statistical arguments. A recent publication opened with the 2022 RealClear Opinion Research poll that argued that “72% of Americans support school choice—the ability of parents to choose the school that best fits their children’s needs.”1 

Why is this significant? First, this communicates the sentiment that “virtually everybody agrees.” This says nothing about whether the viewers should agree with this issue or not. If this premise were asserted to my Challenge A students, they would instinctively reply, “So what?” We call this a bandwagon fallacy.

Additionally, the term “school choice” itself suffers from equivocation. Presently, educational options are legal and available in all fifty states, meaning that proponents equivocate “school choice” with “taxpayer funding for free-market products.”  

School Choice forces Critics to take an “Anti-Choice” Position

Should taxpayers be forced to fund the free market? Moreover, how do legislatures ensure that this money is spent on the type of quality education that is in the public’s best interest (or the government’s interest)? What accountability will ensure the money is spent the way these well-intended policies prescribe? Historically, how well has state government performed this task within their current educational jurisdiction? To what degree could this idea affect the cost and quality of educational options? Does the free market stay ‘free‘ once it is taxpayer-funded? Fundamentally, do we want to expand state-sponsored regulated education or expand actual free-market educational choice?

This IS about a Choice

As the emotions rise among voices on both sides of this issue, remember that the collective conversation does obligate participants to regard sides or emotional manipulation. This issue, like all issues, ought to be about ideas and not the people who hold them. This IS about a choiceLet’s lay aside these culturally acquired discernment liabilities and use those beautiful, classical tools from Challenge A

Check out these blogs and this website for additional information on school choice and educational freedom.

Lauren Gideon profile smiling at the camera

Lauren Gideon is the Director of Public Relations for Classical Conversations.  She has been a home educator since her first student was born 18 years ago. She came to Classical Conversations for support when the student count in their home grew beyond what she thought she could navigate on her own. In addition to homeschooling her seven children, she co-leads community classes that unpack our nation’s founding documents and civic responsibility. However, she is happiest at home, preferably outside, with her husband of 18 years, tackling their newest adventure of building a modern homestead.

  1. “New Poll: Overwhelming Support for School Choice.” American Federation for Children. Accessed on 3/19/2024. https://www.federationforchildren.org/new-poll-72-support-for-school-choice/ ↩︎

The Free-Market Education Table at the Potluck

By Lauren Gideon

As I travel from state to state I find there are two tables of homeschool resources. Those that are total free-market options, and those that are fully or partially taxpayer funded. These resources could be tutoring services, classes, extracurricular activities, sports, fine-arts, and so much more. What I have found remarkably interesting is just like a gluten-free table, free-market options are either spars or plentiful; bland or diverse.

An Illustration From My Gluten-Free Friends

Nearly, every potluck I attend has an accommodating table, based on the reality that a large segment of our population has chosen to abstain from gluten. We know there are a spectrum of reasons. Nearly every gluten-free consumer has some moderate to severe negative consequence they are trying to avoid, and yet others take a proactive approach.

I also bet there are some on the train because… well, they get on all trains.

Motivations aside, in my lifetime the potluck scene has completely changed to accommodate this demographic.

Ok, nothing against my anti-glutenomist friends… If I still have you, follow me with the illustration.

The gluten-free consumer made a decision (forced or voluntary) that altered a major portion of their life. They have their position prior to any potluck. Once there, they are either delighted or depressed with the variety of gluten-free options. The most strict in this demographic choose only from this table. Rarely in their disappointment do they ever compromise and decide to browse the non-gluten free selection. (If you know someone like this who has had accidental gluten contamination, you know why).

To be specific, if there is no cake on the gf table, the consumer does not reluctantly go to the other table to get their cake, they simply go without cake. If this happens enough times, one of two things will probably happen. The friends and family of this individual will have compassion and bake a diet-friendly cake, or the consumer will get frustrated enough to bake their own cake.

How in the world does this intersect with home-schooling?

As we evaluate options on the two tables, we must first step back and evaluate our commitment to the homeschool resource “diet.”  What are the pros and cons of only consuming free-market options? Are there any consequences to sampling options from the subsidized table if you don’t find what you like in the free-market? Some states provide an “all or nothing” choice. In these states, for those that have chosen to homeschool, no state funded options are available.

Do you know what they DO have? They are serving a feast of quality, diverse, competitive, free-market services. How do they have such options? There you will find a rich legacy of groups and individuals who found a way to make a gf cake – by that I mean a robust free-market buffet because the consumers in the state required that accommodation. In other circumstances we find that families solved their own dilemmas with conviction and creativity.

In Many States the Free-Market Table is Lacking

If you are in a state like mine, the free-market table is lacking. One reason this is true is due to the fact that the other table is easily accessible. Families discouraged by the free-market are welcome to browse the state-funded options. At first glance, this seems warm and hospitable. Consumers say things like, “I do not have a choice, the option I wanted (or a quality version of this option) was not available on the free-market.

When this is our outlook, do you know what happens to our table? Nothing. It stays sparse and bland.

What will drive change? The options are the following:

(1) Families will set their “diet” and commit to it before they ever attend the potluck,

(2) Families will ONLY chose the bland options,

Or

(3) Families willcreate better options for the next generation.

We all have a choice, and as we all know; all choices yield outcomes.

Lauren Gideon is the Manager of Grassroots Advocacy for Classical Conversations. She co-leads and teaches through an organization committed to raising citizenship IQ on U.S. founding documents. She and her husband homeschool their seven children on their small acreage, where they are enjoying their new adventures in homesteading.

a red graphic with a white and blue exclamation mark warning symbol

OCEANetwork Freedom Watch Advisory Highlights Five Bills for Oregonians

OCEANetwork is tracking five bills pertaining to homeschool freedoms in Oregon.

Four bills relate to school choice (government funding for private education) with a possibility of added regulations later—some with the goal of tracking every student in the state and obtaining their personal data. 

The fifth bill deals with truancy fines for homeschoolers.

Visit OCEANetwork to read more.

Stop signal on sky background with few clouds.

Why Constitutional Home Educators Alliance Doesn’t Support EdChoice

Constitutional Home Educators Alliance gives a myriad of reasons why they don’t support EdChoice. They cite these reasons and more:

  1. EdChoice raises questions regarding funding
  2. Inevitable lawsuits will cost taxpayers
  3. EdChoice attracts fraud
  4. Government funding extends government reach
  5. EdChoice leads to unintended consequences
  6. Real educational liberty “only comes when the government has no control at all”

Read more here.

Are you still confused, or would you like to learn more? Did you happen to see the video they produced?

the Refining Rhetoric podcast logo, with Robert Bortins, CEO of Classical Conversation, smiling the camera

Should We Reform the Public School System?

“People say that public schools are broken. They are not broken. They are doing exactly what they were created to do. You hear people say, ‘Oh, they’re failing.’ No, they’re not failing. They are succeeding beyond the wildest hopes and dreams of their founders.” – Israel Wayne

In this episode of Refining Rhetoric, Robert Bortins is joined by Israel Wayne, a homeschool dad of eleven children, the director of Family Renewal Ministries, and the author of multiple books. Robert and Israel discuss the origins of the public school system in America, the foundational principles on which this system is built, and ultimately, why we should be concerned about the government funding of private and home schools. If you are a parent, this episode is a must-listen!

To learn more about government-funded private education, click here.

the American flag blowing in the wind at sunset

Will Privatized Education Lead to More Freedom?

Education policy reform is sweeping our nation. Debates on vouchers, Educational Savings Plans, and other government-funded enticements abound. Perhaps your state has recently passed such legislation, or maybe it’s on the docket for the upcoming session?

Kevin Novak, a Texas and North Virginia attorney and president of Deconstructing the Coliseum, not only disagrees with voucher and tax credit systems but also advocates the abolishment of government schools. In his op-ed, “The Best Education Policy is No Education Policy,” he writes,

“To be clear, thought freedom does not comport with vouchers, tax credits or any other post-tax mechanism. You cannot shackle a horse and then complain that it does not run like a thoroughbred. We want freedom — of the pre-tax variety. We do not want bureaucrats putting hurdles between our money and our choices.”

He further explains his rationale for the abolition of government schools:

“Why do I assert that civil government schools must be abolished? Because God never gave the civil government the right to use force and coercion to advance thought … If you are repulsed by the civil government mandating that your humanistic neighbor attend church, why are you not repulsed by your humanistic neighbor mandating that your child be exposed to his humanistic lies?”

Novak offers ideas and other possible solutions. You can read the entire op-ed here in The Western Journal.