Do School Vouchers Work? Milwaukee’s Experiment Suggests an Answer

Source: Tawnell D. Hobbs, Wall Street Journal, January 28, 2018
 
Almost three decades ago, Milwaukee started offering the nation’s first-ever school vouchers. Starting small, the program allowed poor children to use taxpayer money to attend private schools. Today, about a quarter of Milwaukee children educated with public funds take advantage, making the program a testing ground for a big experiment in education.  Did students in the program get a better education? That depends on how participating schools handled a critical issue: how many voucher students to let in.  A Wall Street Journal analysis of the data suggests vouchers worked best when enrollment from voucher students was kept low. As the percentage of voucher students rises, the returns diminish until the point when there is little difference between the performance of public and private institutions. …

Related:

A new study suggests that school vouchers could actually hurt organized religion
Source: Matthew Rosza, Salon, February 15, 2017

Although school vouchers may be a boondoggle to churches, a new study from The National Bureau of Economic Research finds that “they offer financial stability for congregations while at the same time diminishing their religious activities.” The National Bureau of Economic Research found that more than 80 percent of private school students in the 2011/2012 school year attended a religiously-affiliated school, with Catholicism being the most common religious affiliation. The authors studied 71 Catholic parishes in Milwaukee from 1999 to 2013. … Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on whether one believes that religious institutions should focus on religion or on making money by supplanting public schools. … “Our numbers suggest that, within our sample alone, the Milwaukee voucher program has led over time to a decline in non-educational church revenue of $60 million. These large effects are driven by the large size of the voucher program itself,” the authors wrote. …

More Graduates, Less Criminals? The Economic Impacts of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program
Source: Will Flanders and Corey A. DeAngelis, University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform Working Paper, February 3, 2017

Abstract:
Although an abundance of research indicates that private schooling can benefit individual children through higher test scores, the effects on society are less clear. We monetize and forecast the social impacts of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) in the United States. We use existing literature on the impacts of the MPCP on criminal activity and graduation rates. Between 2016 and 2035, students who use a voucher in the MPCP will generate additional economic benefits of $473 million associated with higher graduation rates, and $26 million associated with fewer felonies and misdemeanors, relative to their traditional public school peers.


Read full report.

The School Choice Voucher: A ‘Get Out of Jail’ Card?
Source: Corey DeAngelis & Patrick Wolf, University of Arkansas – Department of Education Reform, March 8, 2016

Abstract:     
In this report we examine crime rates for young adults who experienced Milwaukee’s citywide voucher program as high school students and a comparable group of their peers who had been public school students. Using unique data collected as part of a longitudinal evaluation of the program, we consider criminal activity by youth initially exposed to voucher schools and those in public schools at the same time. We also consider subsequent criminal activity by the students that stayed in the voucher program through 12th grade compared to those who were in public schools for the same period. We show that the mere exposure to private schooling through a voucher is associated with lower rates of criminal activity but the relationship is not robust to different analytic samples or measures of crime. We find a more consistent statistically significant negative relationship between students that stayed in the voucher program through 12th grade and criminal activity (meaning persistent voucher students commit fewer crimes). These results are apparent when controlling for a robust set of student demographics, test scores, and parental characteristics. We conclude that merely being exposed to private schooling for a short time through a voucher program may not have a significant impact on criminal activity, though persistently attending a private school through a voucher program can decrease subsequent criminal activity, especially for males.

Organizational Failure in the Hollow State: Lessons from the Milwaukee Voucher Experience
Source: Michael R. Forda & Fredrik O. Andersson, International Journal of Public Administration, January 15, 2016

Abstract:
In this conceptual article we use the experience of the longstanding Milwaukee private school voucher program to categorize different failure types within the hollow state. Specifically, we argue that the overall performance of the hollow state is dependent on the performance of organizations operating within the hollow state, that organizational failures are inevitable in hollow state activities, and that such failures can be categorized as marketplace failures, service failures, institutional failures, or customer service failures. We conclude that policy makers must plan for the reality of organizational failures in the hollow state if such arrangements are to be effective.


The School Choice Voucher: A ‘Get Out of Jail’ Card?
Source: Corey DeAngelis, Patrick J. Wolf,EDRE Working Paper No. 2016-01, January 6, 2016

Abstract:
In this article we examine crime rates for students in Milwaukee’s citywide voucher program and a comparable group of public school students. Using unique data collected as part of a state-mandated evaluation of the program, we consider criminal activity by students initially exposed to voucher schools and those in public schools at the same time. We also consider criminal activity by students that stayed in the voucher program through 12th grade compared to those who were in public schools at the same time. We show that the mere exposure to private schooling through a voucher is associated with lower rates of criminal activity but the relationship is not robust to different analytic samples or measures of crime. We find a more consistent statistically significant negative relationship between students that stayed in the voucher program through 12th grade and criminal activity (meaning persistent voucher students commit fewer crimes). These results are apparent when controlling for student demographics, test scores, and parental characteristics. We conclude that merely being exposed to private schooling for a short time through a voucher program may not have a significant impact on criminal activity, though persistence in a voucher program can decrease subsequent criminal activity.

High Stakes Choice: Achievement and Accountability in the Nation’s Oldest Urban Voucher Program
Source: John F. Witte, Patrick J. Wolf, Joshua M. Cowen, Deven Carlson, David J. Fleming, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 36(4), December 2014, pp. 437-456

Abstract: This article considers the impact of a high-stakes testing and reporting requirement on students using publicly funded vouchers to attend private schools. We describe how such a policy was implemented during the course of a previously authorized multi-year evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which provided us with data on voucher students before and after the reform, as well as on public school students who received no new policy treatment. Our results indicate substantial growth for voucher students in the first high-stakes testing year, particularly in mathematics, and for students with higher levels of earlier academic achievement. We discuss these results in the context of both the school choice and accountability literatures.

Similar Students, Different Choices: Who Uses a School Voucher in an Otherwise Similar Population of Students?
Source: David J. Fleming, Joshua M. Cowen, John F. Witte, Patrick J. Wolf, Education and Urban Society, December 2013

Abstract: We examine what factors predict why some parents enroll their children in voucher schools while other parents with similar types of children and from similar neighborhoods do not. Furthermore, we investigate how aware parents are of their educational options, where they get their information, and what school characteristics they deem the most important. To answer these questions, we analyze the school choice patterns in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. Using survey data, we compare responses from a representative sample of voucher parents and a matched sample of public school parents. While public school parents have higher incomes than voucher parents do, voucher parents have more years of education on average. We find that parents in both sectors rely heavily on their social networks to gain information about school options. Finally, we conclude that religion plays an important role in explaining why some parents use vouchers while others do not.

The Limits of Federal Disability Law: State Educational Voucher Programs
Source: Wendy Fritzen Hensel, Georgia State University College of Law, Journal of Law & Education, vol. 44, no. 2, pp. 199-286 (2015), Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2015-21

Abstract: The U.S. Department of Justice is currently investigating the state of Wisconsin with respect to its administration of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), which provides low-income students with public money to attend private schools. Faced with complaints of disability discrimination by private schools accepting voucher students, DOJ has ordered Wisconsin to oversee and police these schools to ensure compliance with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which applies to states and their agencies, and § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which applies to recipients of federal funding. Although conditioning its directive on the state’s coverage under these statutes, DOJ in an unprecedented move also strongly hinted that participating schools may themselves be subject to Title II by accepting voucher students. If correct, this contradicts existing agency precedent, has significant implications for states administering voucher programs, and may impose burdens on private schools far beyond Wisconsin’s borders.

Complicating this inquiry is the sensitive context in which it takes place – the education of children with disabilities. This vulnerable population has routinely and indisputably been the target of discrimination and diminished opportunities in education. The ability to ensure equal access and opportunity for these students is both compelling and critical as a matter of their civil rights.

This article evaluates the legal authority for DOJ’s directives to Wisconsin and explores the broader question of whether Title II and § 504 obligations attach to the actions of private schools participating in voucher programs.