Study: Vouchers Improve Public School Performance

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School vouchers have proven to bring about a win-win situation for education, improving both private and public school outcomes, a new study reveals.

The February 2020 study, titled “Effects of Scaling Up Private School Choice Programs on Public School Students,” which was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, examined how a burgeoning Florida private school choice program affected public school students’ outcomes.

No one argues against the self-evident fact that school choice programs benefit the students who avail themselves of them. The more controversial issues with private school choice programs always involve what happens to the students remaining in public schools. This is precisely what the research team sought to find out.

Opponents of school vouchers have long argued that such programs remove high-performing kids with engaged parents from public schools, making life worse for those left behind. The new study found that this was not true, and that all students benefited from the school choice program.

The Florida scholarship program helping kids attend private schools began in the 2002-2003 school year by awarding just over 15,000 scholarships annually. This number has grown exponentially and reached over 108,000 students in the 2017-18 school year, a figure representing some 4 percent of all K-12 Florida students.

Growing the Florida program has produced benefits for public school students across the board, including higher standardized test scores and lower absenteeism and suspension rates, the study revealed. The researchers found that the results were particularly pronounced for lower-income students, while contributing positively for more affluent students as well.

In the words of the authors of the study:

We find evidence that as public schools are more exposed to private school choice, their students experience increasing benefits as the program scales up. In particular, higher levels of private school choice exposure are associated with lower rates of suspensions and absences, and with higher standardized test scores in reading and in math.

School choice supporters have consistently made the case that vouchers break the monopoly enjoyed by public schools, obliging them to become competitive in order to avoid losing even more students.

In the words of the study, “private school choice programs could encourage public schools that might otherwise have been complacent to vigorously improve the education they offer in order to avoid losing ‘clients’ to a more-affordable private schooling sector.”

The results of the study suggest that this is, in fact, the case.

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