Shaping Policies. Creating Opportunities.

School Vouchers Would Increase Costs for Local Taxpayers

State lawmakers are considering legislation that would expand the Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program, or vouchers. The expansion of school vouchers and associated tax credits would divert state funding from local, neighborhood public schools. However, many public school costs, like buildings and utilities, are fixed costs that do not automatically decrease based on student population. If state funding for neighborhood schools decreases, local funding must increase to cover those fixed costs. Missouri Budget Project projected the fiscal impact of vouchers on a sample of school districts across the state. While the financial impact of vouchers would vary widely by district, some increases could be substantial and may require a local tax increase.

By Diverting State Funding to Private Schools, Vouchers Would Further Increase the Share of School Costs Paid By Local Taxpayers

If a Missouri child uses a tax credit voucher to attend a private school, state funding that went or would have gone to the public school the child attended would be reduced in accordance with the formula that allocates state funding to public schools.

Although some costs “follow the child” and may change with the number of students attending a school, like teacher salaries and support services, each
school also faces many “fixed costs” that do not decrease. For example, expenses like building maintenance, heating and cooling, and other utilities are fixed, noninstructional costs that vary only slightly with attendance.

If state funding for a neighborhood school is decreased, local funding would need to increase to cover the amount that state funding had contributed to those noninstructional costs for the departing students.

The budgetary impact on neighborhood schools and school districts could be considerable, depending on a number of factors, including the number of students that switch to private schools.

To illustrate the range of financial impact, MBP projected the revenue loss associated with tax credit vouchers (or ESAs) – and the corresponding local revenue increases that would be needed to fund “fixed costs” in a sample of school districts in counties across Missouri.

In some cases, the amount of the increase could be substantial and may require a local tax increase.

Moreover, in many cases, ESAs would provide a higher level of funding to a private school than to a public school for the same child.
For more information, see Appendix 1: Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program

Further, private school tuition is still out of reach for most families, even with vouchers. For more information, see Appendix 2: Expanded ESAs More Likely to Benefit Children in Higher Income Families.

CountySchool DistrictNumber of Students2022 – 2023 State Funding2022-2023 State Funding Per StudentRevenue Loss if
10% of
Students Shift
to Tax Credit
Vouchers / ESA
Revenue Loss if
20% of
Students Shift
to Tax Credit
Vouchers / ESA
Fixed Costs Now Funded by State that Would Instead Require Local Funds (10% Student Shift)Fixed Costs Now Funded by State that Would Instead Require Local Funds (20% Student Shift)Percent Local Revenue Must Increase to Cover Fixed Costs (10% Student Shift)Percent Local Revenue Must Increase to Cover Hard Costs (20% Student Shift)
Boone CountyHallsville R-IV1489$8,178,544$5,493$818,457$1,636,914$92,493$184,9861.28%2.56%
Southern Boone Co1946$11,964,658$6,148$1,198,860$2,397,720$445,489$890,9783.39%6.78%
Sturgeon R-V1391$8,851,001$6,363$884,457$1,768,914$80,578$161,1562.85%5.70%
Centralia R-VI1307$6,223,857$4,762$623,822$1,247,644$201,098$402,1962.52%5.04%
Harrisburg R-VIII571$2,832,486$4,961$282,777$565,554$80,458$160,9162.11%4.22%
Columbia 9317838$81,645,727$4,577$8,165,368$16,330,736$4,092,942$8,185,8842.12%4.24%
Dallas CountyDallas Co R-I1687$9,389,049$5,566$940,654$1,881,308$75,746$151,4921.04%2.08%
Jackson CountyBlue Springs R-IV14384$64,560,970$4,488$6,453,744$12,907,488$2,739,821$5,479,6422.13%4.26%
Grain Valley R-V4383$26,474,891$6,040$2,645,520$5,291,040$860,473$1,702,9462.86%5.72%
Oak Grove R-VI1897$9,936,993$5,238$995,220$1,990,440$189,297$378,5941.59%3.18%
Lee Summit  R-VII17410$81,759,071$4,696$8,175,736$16,351,472$3,207,758$6,415,5161.77%3.54%
Hickman Mills C-14972$33,069,574$6,651$3,305,547$6,611,094$983,076$1,966,1522.13%4.26%
Raytown C-II7738$46,708,249$6,036$4,671,864$9,343,728$769,070$1,538,1401.17%2.34%
Grandview C-43519$18,064,740$5,133$1,806,816$3,613,632$759,243$1,518,4861.68%3.36%
Lone Jack C-6673$3,519,536$5,230$350,410$700,820$65,707$131,4141.10%2.20%
Independence 3013799$84,291,822$6,109$8,430,420$16,860,840$1,868,796$3,737,5922.12%4.24%
Kansas City 3313619$12,217,003$897$1,221,714$2,443,428$127,592$255,184less than 1/10th of 1%less than 1/10th of 1%
Center 582437$6,648,023$2,728$665,632$1,331,264$120,136$240,2720.33%0.66%
Fort Osage4700$29,013,188$6,173$2,901,310$5,802,620$887,933$1,775,8662.97%5.94%
McDonald CountyMcDonald Co R-I3,368$23,817,011$7,072$2,383,264$4,766,528$201,715$403,4301.61%3.22%
Mississippi CountyEast Prairie R-I985$5,487,013$5,571$551,529$1,103,058$40,194$80,3881.07%2.14%
Charleston R-I721$3,171,051$4,398$316,656$633,312$69,500$139,0002.04%4.08%
Putnam CountyPutnam CO R-I654$2,614,111$3,997$259,805$519,610$32,204$64,4080.61%1.22%
Schuyler CountySchuyler CO R-I597$2,873,497$4,813$288,780$577,560$67,040$134,0801.13%2.26%
Ste. Genevieve CountySte. Genevieve CO R-II1743$5,015,059$2,877$500,598$1,001,196$46,113$92,2260.19%0.38%
St. Louis CitySt. Louis City
$24,700,259$1,347$2,470,398$4,940,796$254,523$509,046less than 1/10th of 1%less than 1/10th of 1%
St. Louis CountyHazelwood15,650$65,507,313$4,186$6,551,090$13,102,180$1,643,344$3,286,6881%2%
Ferguson/Florissant R-II8,946$42,630,829$4,765$4,264,675$8,529,350$595,712$1,191,4240.79%1.58%
Pattonville R-III5,857$12,072,926$2,061$1,207,746$2,415,492$150,075$300,1500.16%0.32%
Rockwood R-VI19,662$47,783,264$2,430$4,777,380$9,554,760$789,664$1,579,3280.32%0.64%
Kirkwood R-VII5,778$6,804,390$1,178$680,884$1,361,768$310,317$620,6340.33%0.66%
Lindbergh Schools7,062$11,165,698$1,581$1,116,186$2,232,372$439,909$879,8180.54%1.08%
Mehlville R-IX9,677$23,759,680$2,455$2,376,440$4,752,880$320,137$640,2740.33%0.66%
Parkway C-216,695$15,790,342$946$1,579,820$3,159,640$320,056$640,1120.12%0.24%
Affton 1012,417$5,444,919$2,253$545,226$1,090,452$37,752$75,5040.12%0.24%
Clayton2,303$2,363,932$1,026$235,980$471,960$26,669$53,338less than 1/10th of 1%less than 1/10th of 1%
Hancock Place1,194$7,456,207$6,245$743,155$1,486,310$239,879$479,7581.99%3.98%
Maplewood – Richmond Heights1,362$2,511,394$1,844$250,784$501,568$104,844$209,6880.41%0.82%
Riverview Gardens5,108$31,231,614$6,114$3,124,254$6,248,508$434,248$868,4962.12%4.24%
University City2,417$7,628,336$3,156$763,752$1,527,504$96,331$192,6620.23%0.46%
Valley Park777$948,228$1,220$95,160$190,320$16,867$33,7340.13%0.26%
Webster Groves4,174$9,551,806$2,288$954,096$1,908,192$143,615$287,2300.24%0.48%
Worth CountyWorth CO R-III275$1,707,770$6,210$173,880$347,760$7,328$14,6560.41%0.82%
Greene CountyAsh Grove RIV690$3,624,587$4,731$326,439$652,878$36,993$73,9860.99%1.98%
Fair Grove RX1208$6,203,508$5,144$622,424$1,244,848$50,464$100,9281.02%2.04%
Logan-Rogersville RVIII2363$10,973,010$4,644$1,095,984$2,191,968$410,890$821,7802.25%4.50%
Republic RIII5027$28,272,725$5,624$2,828,872$5,657,744$777,381$1,554,7622.41%4.82%
Springfield RXII22352$90,039,391$4,028$9,002,580$18,005,160$2,733,852$5,467,7041.22%2.44%
Strafford RVI1342$4,560,851$3,399$455,466$910,932$183,718$367,4361.71%3.42%
Walnut Grove RV265$1,472,402$5,556$150,012$300,024$51,963$103,9262.53%6.40%
Willard RII4529$24,428,707$5,394$2,443,482$4,886,964$383,872$767,7441.43%2.86%

Note: MBP used base figures from state funding and school district spending listed in the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Annual Secretary of the Board Report (ASBR) for the 2022-2023 School Year for these calculations.

APPENDIX 1: Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program

The Missouri Empowerment Scholarship Accounts Program (ESA) was established by legislation in 2021, but tax credit vouchers were not available for redemption until Fiscal Year 2023. In that year, slightly more than $2 million in vouchers were redeemed. The FY 2023 cap on the program is $26,850,000.

Under current law the ESA program can increase annually based on inflation, with an overall cap of $50 million. Proposed legislation would increase the cap to $75 million in the first year, with inflationary increases in following years.

Tax credit vouchers are currently available to students in families with incomes up to 200% of the income limit for free and reduced lunch, as shown. The proposal would increase that income limit to 300% of the income limit for free and reduced lunch.

Family SizeIncome Eligibility for Free and Reduced LunchCurrent ESA Income Limits
(200% of the Free and Reduced Lunch Limit)
Proposed Income Limits

How Tax Credit Vouchers Through Missouri Empower Scholarship Accounts Program Work

Under the current structure, eligible families apply to a designated Education Assistance Organization to receive a tax credit voucher
(scholarship grant) to offset the cost of attending private school.

The grant amount is capped at the amount of the “State Adequacy Target,” which is used as a basis for determining state funding amounts for
public schools. The State Adequacy Target is currently capped at $6,375 per student but will increase to $6,760 in the 2024-2025 School Year.

However, it is important to note that not every public school district receives this amount. The state funding provided to public schools is based
on a complex formula that takes into account the amount of local revenue that schools have access to, as well as various needs such as poverty. As a result, the average amount of state funding provided to public schools is well below the adequacy target at just $5,519 per student per year.

Therefore, while the state may provide just $5,519 (or in some cases less) to support a student in a local neighborhood school, under the
tax credit voucher program the state will provide as much as $6,760 to a private school for that same child.

APPENDIX 2: Expanded Tax Credit Vouchers More Likely to Benefit Children in Higher Income Families

Although tax credit vouchers provide up to the maximum amount given to public schools in the state, the amount of the voucher will still fall well below the tuition of private schools. According to Private School Review, the average tuition for private K-12 schools in Missouri is $10,586 per child per year. Some schools, particularly those in urban areas, can be much more expensive.

As such, while a child may be eligible for an ESA voucher of $6,760, that amount would not cover the tuition payment. Instead, a family would need to cover, on average, at least $3,800 of the cost of private school for each of their children. By comparison, the annual income for a family of three living in poverty is $25,820. This family would need to spend nearly 15% of their annual income to make up the gap between the voucher amount and actual tuition costs. Families living at or near the poverty level simply cannot afford to do that.

SchoolTuition CostTax Credit Voucher 2024-2025 School YearGap Between Voucher and Cost of Private SchoolIncome for a Family of Three at the Federal Poverty Level
Rockhurst (Kansas City)$15,300$6,760$8,540$25,820
Barstow K-12 (Kansas City)Starting at $18,980$6,760$12,220$25,820
Sacred Heart Elementary (Sedalia)$8,775$6,760$2,015$25,820
Springfield CatholicStarting at $7,102$6,760$342$25,820
St. Louis University High School  $19,750  $6,760  $12,990  $25,820
Vianney High School (St. Louis)  $18,150  $6,760  $11,390  $25,820
Mary Institute and Country Day School (St. Louis)Starting at $24,250$6,760$17,490$25,820
About the Author