Last reviewed September 2014
Minnesota Issues Resource Guides
This guide is compiled by staff at the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library on a topic of interest to Minnesota legislators. It is designed to provide an introduction to the topic, directing the user to a variety of sources, and is not intended to be exhaustive.
The concept of universal school vouchers was introduced in the United States by the essay, "The Role of Government in Education", written by Milton Friedman in 1955. Although the article received little attention at the time, several decades later the idea would generate much debate. Theoretically, in a voucher program, the state issues parents a voucher in the amount of the cost of the child's education and the voucher may be used at any school the parent chooses. The reality is somewhat different. Parental income restrictions to qualify for a voucher, monetary limits of vouchers, and restrictions on which schools accept vouchers all serve to limit the scope of choice in voucher programs.
One of the first voucher programs started in 1972 when Alum Rock Union Elementary School District in San Jose, California conducted a five year public school voucher demonstration program with the federal government. The Rand Corporation examined the program and in 1974 published, A Public School Voucher Demonstration: The First Year at Alum Rock, Summary and Conclusions.
In 1989 Milwaukee, Wisconsin enacted a school voucher program that allowed students to attend private, nonsectarian schools at taxpayer expense. It began in 1990 and became the first program in the United States to significantly subsidize private schools with public dollars. The 1995 Wisconsin Legislature expanded the Milwaukee program to include private, religious schools. In June 1998 the Supreme Court of Wisconsin in its Jackson v. Benson decision, upheld the expansion of the program to include religious schools. The United States Supreme Court declined to consider a challenge to this ruling.
State legislatures have made numerous attempts to pass a variety of voucher programs. Of those that were created, most have been challenged in court based on First Amendment issues related to the separation of church and state/establishment of religion. A three part test has been used frequently to determine the constitutionality of school voucher laws. It was included in Chief Justice Burger's 1971 United States Supreme Court ruling in Lemon v. Kurtzman. It states, "First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion." According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 13 states and the District of Columbia currently provide some type of state-funded school voucher program for qualifying students.
Minnesota has passed various pieces of legislation enabling parents to take tax deductions for educational expenses. These income tax deductions date as far back as 1955 with the passage of Laws of Minnesota 1955, Chapter 741. A system of tax credits for students attending nonpublic elementary and secondary schools was enacted by the Minnesota Legislature in 1971 (Laws of Minnesota 1971, Chapter 944). Minnesota's law was implemented from 1971-1973. In 1972, a Minnesota state trial court found the Minnesota law constitutional. The law shared many similarities with a New York program that was found unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in 1973 (Committee for Public Education v. Nyquist). In 1974, the Minnesota Supreme Court complied with the Nyquist precedent and ruled this Minnesota tax credit unconstitutional. In 1983 the United States Supreme Court in Mueller v. Allen upheld the state's 1955 income tax deductions for dependents' educational expenses. For additional information on Minnesota educational tax credits consult Income Tax Deductions and Credits for Public and Nonpublic Education in Minnesota.
Minnesota experienced a flurry of voucher activity in the mid to late 1990's. Then-Minnesota-Governor Arne Carlson actively supported educational voucher programs. During the 1996 legislative session his proposed voucher legislation was rejected by the committee that considered it, never reaching the full House or Senate for a vote. In the 1997 regular legislative session various reform proposals were introduced including "common schools of excellence" and increased tuition tax credits. The K-12 funding bill, House File 1684, was passed in the regular 1997 session but vetoed by the Governor, in part, because his proposal for increased funding for private school expenses was excluded from the bill. During the first special session of 1997, a new K-12 funding bill (Laws of Minnesota 1st Special Session 1997, Chapter 4, Article 13) was passed that included increases in education tax credits. The current Minnesota Education Credit is in Minnesota Statutes 290.0674.
In 2005-2006, a few bills were introduced in the Minnesota House and Senate authorizing "education access grants" for certain low income students in the Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts. The bills, Senate File 736/ House File 697, were introduced in 2005; House File 13/ Senate File 2 were introduced in the 2005 Special Session; House File 3504/ Senate File 2962 were introduced in 2006. None of these bills passed.
In 2011, the Minnesota House and Senate introduced House File 273/ Senate File 388. The bills would have allowed tuition funding for low income students at low performing schools who transferred to nonpublic schools. Language from these bills was amended into House File 934, the omnibus education finance bill, which was vetoed by Governor Mark Dayton.
Significant Books and Reports
The ABCs of School Choice. Indianapolis, IN: The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, 2016.
Hoenack, Stephen. Alternative Designs of an Educational Voucher System in Minnesota: Summary of an Econometric Study. St. Paul: Choice in Education Foundation, Inc., 1994. (LB2828.85 .M6 H64 1994)
Larson, Lisa. The Constitutionality of Education Vouchers Under State and Federal Law. St. Paul: Minnesota House of Representatives, House Research Department, 1998. (KFM5790 .L37 1998)
Larson, Lisa. School Vouchers. St. Paul: Minnesota House of Representatives, House Research Department, 2002. (LB2828.8 .L37 2002)
Lerner, Jon S. The Constitutional Case for Universal School Choice in Minnesota. Minneapolis: Center of the American Experiment, 1993. (LB1027.9 .L47 1993)
Manzi, Nina. Income Tax Deductions and Credits for Public and Nonpublic Education in Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota House of Representatives, House Research Department, 2008. (HJ4653 .C73 M36)
Pearlstein, Mitch. Minnesota's Immense Achievement Gaps: The Untapped Promise of Vouchers . Golden Valley, MN: Center of the American Experiment, 2014.
Significant Articles and Journals
(articles in reverse chronological order)
Ash, Katie. "Vouchers Get Fresh Attention From State Policymakers." Education Week, February 4, 2014.
Cowen, Joshua M. et al. "School Vouchers and Student Attainment: Evidence from a State-Mandated Study of Milwaukee's Parental Choice Program." Policy Studies Journal, February 2013, p. 147-168.
Sutton, Lenford C. and Richard A. King. "School Vouchers in a Climate of Political Change." Journal of Education Finance, Winter 2011, p244-267.
Barrow, Lisa, and Cecilia Elena Rouse. "School Vouchers: Recent Findings and Unanswered Questions." Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago: Economic Perspectives, Third Quarter, 2008, p. 2-16. (Vertical File: E 12.147)
McCarthy, Martha. "Determining the Legality of School Vouchers: Are State Courts the New Venue?" Journal of Education Finance, Winter 2007, p. 352-372. (Vertical File: E 12.147)
Maas, Ericca. "A Fiscal Analysis of Proposed Education Access Grants in Minneapolis." School Choice Issues in the States, July 2005, Entire Issue. (Vertical File: E 12.147)
"Inside Choice Schools: 15 Years of Vouchers." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 11-17, 2005. (Vertical File: E 12.147) (A seven day series of articles related to the Milwaukee school voucher program.)
"School Vouchers." St. Paul: Pioneer Press, 1996. (LB2828.85 .M6 P56 1996) (A series of articles on educational vouchers that appeared in the Pioneer Press newspaper.)
Friedman, Milton. "The Role of Government in Education." Economics and the Public Interest, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1955. p. 123-144. (Vertical File: E 12.147)
A number of journals follow the issue of educational vouchers and school choice on a regular basis:
Significant Internet Resources
Links to the World, Education (K-12), Choice and Vouchers - Websites compiled by the MN Legislative Library.
Parental Choice in Education - From the Heritage Foundation, a research and educational institution whose mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies.
School Choice - Publications and information from the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.
School Choice in Minnesota - Information on Minnesota school options from the Minnesota Department of Education.
School Vouchers - From the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
Additional Library Resources
For historical information, check the following codes in the Newspaper Clipping File and the Vertical File:
E 12.147 (Education-Vouchers).
For additional reports at the Legislative Reference Library, use these Library catalog searches:
Educational Vouchers; School Choice