School Choice Terms

  • Glossary of Terms

    Educational Savings Account (ESA), also called Personalized Learning Scholarship Accounts (PLSAs): ESA’s allow any parent not enrolling his or her child in a public school to receive a grant equal to a portion of the state per-pupil funding. Students can use that grant for educational expenses such as private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring and online learning. There are various forms of ESAs in a handful of states currently. Some are only for students with disabilities; others are for any student.

    Tax credit scholarships: a School Tuition Organization or STO, is the program used in Iowa. Vouchers are funded by taxes; tax credit scholarships are funded by private donations. Private donors give money to a nonprofit and receive a tax break for their donation. That nonprofit uses the donations to award scholarships to students to help defray the cost of tuition at a private school.  

    Voucher: a voucher is a document, usually issued by the state that provides families with money for tuition at an out-of-district public school, or private school, including a religious school. The amount of the scholarship, the total amount of state money set aside for scholarships, and which students are eligible varies from state to state.  Voucher systems vary among the state that use them. The voucher concept has been argued all the way to the Supreme Court, and the Court ruled that the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution did not rule out state voucher programs. Nearly every voucher program has been ruled constitutional by state supreme courts.

    Charter schools: these are public schools, but run differently than traditional public schools. They operate with fewer regulations. Typically, a private organization (for profit or nonprofit) will run the school.  Some charter schools are run by large school networks, and others are run at a more local level. Charter schools have more autonomy than traditional schools. They are often free from union control, and the administrators have more freedom to hire and fire. Students aren’t assigned to attend charter schools; parents choose to enroll them there and there is usually some type of lottery system to accept students if they receive too many applications. There are more than 1,000,000 students on waiting lists to attend charter schools around the country.

    Magnet school: a public school offering special instruction and programs not available elsewhere, designed to attract a more diverse student body from throughout a school district.