Research Shows Positive Impact of Private School Choice
The case for school choice is overwhelming. The vast majority of credible evidence shows that school choice programs improve academic outcomes for not only the program participants but also the students in public schools; save taxpayers money; and reduce racial segregation. To download a summary of school choice research, click here.
College Enrollment and College Graduation
A study from the Urban Institute released in February 2019 shows better outcomes for students in Florida who attend private K-12 schools thanks to the state’s school choice program. The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program serves 100,000 students with an average family income of $24,000 per year, and 68 percent of the students are African American or Hispanic. Notably, according to the most recent comparison, the scholarship funding is only 55 percent of the dollar amount of per-pupil spending in the state of Florida.
The Urban Institute study shows that students attending private schools via the scholarships are up to 99 percent more likely to enroll in four-year colleges and are up to 56 percent more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees compared to their similarly matched public school peers.
Summary of findings (compared to public school peers)
– Students who began using the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship to attend private K-12 schools in grades 8-10 were 19% more likely to enroll in any college, and 43% more likely to enroll in a four-year college. These students were 20% more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees.
– If these students used the scholarship to attend private schools for four years or more, they were 99% more likely to enroll in four-year colleges and 45% more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees.
– Students who began using the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship to attend private K-12 schools in grades 3-7 were 12% more likely to enroll in any college, and 16% more likely to enroll in a four-year college. These students were also 11% more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees.
– If these students used the scholarship to attend private schools for 7 years or more, they were 45% more likely to enroll in four-year colleges and 56% more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees.
The new findings expand on the 2017 work by the Urban Institute on the Florida school choice program. The new study includes data from private colleges and from non-Florida colleges, whereas the previous study only included data from public colleges in Florida.
Academic Outcomes for Participating Students
17 empirical studies examined academic outcomes for students participating in private school choice using random assignment, the “gold standard” of defensible social science:
• 11 found improved test scores for school choice participants
• 4 found no significant effect for school choice participants
• 2 found negative impact in the early years of study for school choice participants
Academic Outcomes for Public School Students
21 empirical studies examined school choice and how it impacts academic outcomes in public schools:
• 20 found that school choice improved public school academic outcomes
• 1 found no significant effect on academic outcomes from school choice
Fiscal Impact on Taxpayers and Public Schools
28 studies examined the financial impact for the taxpayers and public schools:
• 25 found that school choice programs save taxpayers money
• 3 found that school choice programs are revenue neutral
• None found that school choice programs have a negative fiscal impact
Effects of School Choice Programs on Racial Stratification
10 studies examined the impact of school choice on racial segregation:
• 9 found that school choice programs move students into less segregated schools
• 1 found that school choice programs have no net effect on racial segregation
• None found that school choice programs increase racial segregation
State Case Studies
Florida – Urban Institute Study on College Enrollment
Urban Institute Study Facts:
This is the first study that has measured the long-term education outcomes for students in a private school choice program at the statewide level. The program that Dr. Chingos of the Urban Institute studied is the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program (FTC).
See the full study here: http://urbn.is/2k1pJvh.
The results are clear: The Florida school choice program significantly increases college matriculation, especially when students were enrolled in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program for a longer period of time.
- On average, the FTC increases college enrollment by 15 percent compared to public school students who did not receive a scholarship.
- a) If a student stays in a private school via the FTC for two years, college enrollment increases by 9-14 percent compared to public school students.
- b) If a student stays in a private school via the FTC for three years, college enrollment increases by 19-25 percent compared to public school students.
- c) If a student stays in a private school via the FTC for four years or more, college enrollment increasesby 37-43 percent compared to public school students.
- If students received a scholarship from the FTC in grades 3-7, and stayed in the program for four years or more, they saw modest improvements in associate degree attainment rates.
“Enrollment effects are concentrated at two-year colleges, but for students who entered FTC in elementary or middle school, there is a positive impact on four-year college enrollment of 0.9 percentage points (15 percent) after three years of participation and 1.5 percentage points (25 percent) after four or more years.” (p.20)
And this data only looked at Florida public college enrollment rates – it did not examine out-of-state college or private college enrollment due to lack of available data. Dr. Chingos asserts (p. 11) that other national data suggests then that these enrollment rates could be conservative.
U.S. News and World Report: “Study: School Choice Program in Florida Boosts College Enrollment” http://bit.ly/2k2THPF
Step Up for Students: “Study: FL private school choice students more likely to get to college, get degrees” http://bit.ly/2hA7VCO
Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Facts:
- The program started in 2001 and 102,000 students are currently enrolled – the largest private school choice program in the country.
- Of those currently enrolled, 68 percent of the students are Black or Hispanic, the average family income for students in the program is $25,000, and research shows they were some of the worst-performing students at their previous public school.
- All reports show the program saves the state money. The most definitive study, by the nonpartisan Florida Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability, found in 2008 that the state saves $1.49 for every $1 lost in revenue. The Florida Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference projected that the scholarship saved the state $57.9 million in 2012-13.
- Research also shows that the program helps academic performance of the public schools.
Florida – A Decade of Progress (1999-2009)
The state of Florida adopted comprehensive education reform, including private school choice, under former Governor Jeb Bush. These reforms have been supported by subsequent Governors and state legislators to the benefit of Florida’s K-12 students. They enacted several K-12 education reforms beginning in 1999 that included:
- Private school choice
- Charter schools
- Public school choice
- Virtual education
- Performance pay
- Alternative teacher certification
- A+ Accountability Plan (standardized measurement of student learning, A-F grading of schools)
- A ban on social promotion (must be able to read by 3rd grade)
Because Florida’s reforms have been in existence the longest, it is more heavily researched than other states, as demonstrated in the following sections.
Impact on Public School Achievement: Closing the Racial Achievement Gap
As these reforms took effect, Florida students’ National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores– an exam the federal government has administered every two years since the early 1990s –increased relative to their national peers.
In 2003, when all 50 states first participated, Florida fourth-graders ranked 32nd in Reading. In 2009, Florida fourth-graders ranked 10th in Reading.
Between 1998 and 2009, Florida’s black and Hispanic students made a 25 point increase on the fourth-grade reading NAEP tests, making twice as much progress as the national average for black and Hispanic students.
According to Matthew Ladner, Ph.D. and Lindsey Burke, “in 1998, Florida’s black students scored below the national average on fourth-grade reading, approximately 1.5 grade levels below even the most poorly performing states. By 2009, Florida’s black children outscored or tied statewide averages for all children in eight states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, and New Mexico. Black children in Florida pulled off this feat despite the fact that all eight states improved somewhat themselves between 1998 and 2009.”
Florida’s Hispanic students fared even better. On the 2009 fourth grade reading NAEP, Florida’s Hispanic students outscored or tied 31 state averages. On this measure, the racial achievement gap between white students nationally and Hispanic students in Florida has dropped by 76 percent since 1998.
Choice in Florida and the Relationship to Academic Success
Additionally, there is strong evidence that Florida’s private school choice program is achieving results for the students participating in it. Extensive evaluations have been done on the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which is now serving nearly 100,000 low-income students. In 2006, the state legislature required that every scholarship student take a nationally norm-referenced test every year. Those test scores are reported to a University of Florida research team that writes an annual evaluation. The research team, led by Dr. David N. Figlio since 2008, has consistently found that:
- “Program participants are more likely to come from lower-performing public schools prior to entering the program. In addition, they tend to be among the lowest-performing students in their prior school, regardless of the performance level of their public school.”
- Students participating in the Florida Scholarship Tax Credit performed just as well—if not better—than students nationally. “The typical student participating in the program tended to maintain his or her relative position in comparison with others nationwide. It is important to note that these national comparisons pertain to all students nationally, and not just low-income students,” the study’s author, David Figlio, said. In a later study, Dr. Figlio also found that the typical student participating in the program gained a year’s worth of learning in a year’s worth of time.
There is also direct evidence that the Florida choice program has contributed to the rising academic achievement of the public schools in the state. In 2010, Professors Figlio and Hart of Northwestern University, examined that very question and found that:
- The passage of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program in 2001 led to standardized test score gains in the public schools most likely to lose students to private schools.
Indiana – Reform Results (2011-2016)
The state of Indiana adopted comprehensive education reform, including private school choice, under former Governor Mitch Daniels. These reforms were supported and strengthened under former Governor Mike Pence and subsequent state legislatures to the benefit of Indiana’s K-12 students. Indiana’s reforms were similar in many respects to Florida’s, including:
- Private school choice
- Focus on accountability
- High academic standards
- Teacher performance
Indiana’s voucher program is one of the most expansive and highly accountable in the country, and is aimed at low-income and lower middle-class students statewide. The program has grown exponentially, from 3,900 students enrolled the first year (2011-12 school year) to nearly 35,000 students in the 2015-17 school year. With such rapid growth the challenge is now working to ensure that there are enough high quality private schools to meet the demand.
Impact on Public School Achievement
Indiana’s reforms are already having an effect on academic achievement. The state has seen a sharp increase in its NAEP scores since the 2011 education reforms were implemented.
In 2011, Indiana fourth-graders ranked 27th in Reading. In 2015, Indiana fourth-graders ranked 9th in Reading.
The percentage of fourth graders reading at a basic and above level jumped from 67 percent in 2011 to 75 percent in 2015.