The School-Voucher Paradox

Source: Hayley Glatter, The Atlantic, February 15, 2017

School choice aids and abets segregation—or so goes the logic of many of the policy’s loudest critics. But a study recently published in Education and Urban Society provides evidence to the contrary: A voucher program actually reduced racial stratification in the public schools that families decided to leave. The focus of the study, titled “The Impact of Targeted School Vouchers on Racial Stratification in Louisiana Schools,” is the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), which provides state money for students to attend private schools. Researchers found that as families participated in the program, the student bodies of the public schools they opted out of began to more closely reflect the racial makeup of the school’s surrounding community. In other words, the public schools became more integrated. The findings stand apart from previous research conducted by groups like that National Education Policy Center that found many school-choice programs result in “an unsettling degree of segregation.” Patrick Wolf, one of the co-authors of the study and an education professor at the University of Arkansas, attributed the new findings to Louisiana’s demographic makeup and emphasized that the rollout and examination of school-choice programs should be “heavily context dependent.”

… Yes, the study “indicates that the vast majority (82 percent) of LSP transfers have reduced racial stratification in the voucher students’ former public schools.” The operative word in that analysis, though, is “former.” The families that used the voucher option to attend a private school facilitated integration in a public school their child would no longer attend. And, in fact, the study found that the students who used vouchers in Louisiana reduced racial stratification in the private schools they selected just 45 percent of the time: More often, Wolf said, “they actually increase the segregation in the private school … they push the student demographics of the private school further away from the ideal standards from the community.” … On top of that, early evidence on student achievement also points to negative outcomes for families that took advantage of the vouchers. …

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About The Louisiana Voucher Program, Where Failure Really Is An Option
Source: Mercedes Schneider, Huffington Post, July 25, 2016

Sure, on the whole, Louisiana’s voucher schools are flunkie, but in 2015, at a greater cost to the public than the public schools that they are trailing, voucher schools are, uh, less flunkie. Let’s look at some numbers derived from that 2016-17 voucher application data file. 7,807 students who met the qualification for income eligibility applied for vouchers in 2016-17, where income eligibility means that the household income cannot exceed 250 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Of that 7,807, only 588 (7.5 percent) identified as attending a local-board-controlled public school the previous school year. So much for droves of students fleeing traditional public schools when given “choice.” …

Louisiana governor looks to curb school choice
Source: Amelia Hamilton, Louisiana Watchdog, March 15, 2016

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards is looking to curb both school vouchers and charter school growth in the state. On Monday, the Democrat proposed legislation that would narrow eligibility for participation in the voucher program and make it harder to launch charter schools.

The Impact of the Louisiana Scholarship Program on Racial Segregation in Louisiana Schools
Source: Anna J. Egalite, Jonathan N. Mills, Patrick J. Wolf, SSRN, February 24, 2016

The question of how school choice programs affect the racial stratification of schools is highly salient in the field of education policy. We use a student-level panel data set to analyze the impacts of the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP) on racial segregation in public and private schools. This targeted school voucher program provides funding for low-income, mostly minority students in the lowest-graded public schools to enroll in participating private schools. Our analysis indicates that the vast majority (82%) of LSP transfers have reduced racial segregation in the voucher students’ former public schools. LSP transfers have marginally increased segregation in the participating private schools, however, where just 45% of transfers reduce racial segregation. In those school districts under federal desegregation orders, voucher transfers result in a large reduction in traditional public schools’ racial segregation levels and have no discernible impact on private schools. The results of this analysis provide reliable empirical evidence that parental choice actually has aided desegregation efforts in Louisiana.

The Effects of the Louisiana Scholarship Program On Student Achievement after Two Years
Source: Jonathan N. Mills, Patrick J. Wolf, SSRN, February 24, 2016

The Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP) is a statewide initiative offering publicly-funded vouchers to enroll in local private schools to students in low-performing schools with family income no greater than 250 percent of the poverty line. Initially established in 2008 as a pilot program in New Orleans, the LSP was expanded statewide in 2012. This paper examines the experimental effects of using an LSP scholarship to enroll in a private school on student achievement in the first two years following the program’s expansion. Our results indicate that the use of an LSP scholarship has negatively impacted both ELA and math achievement, although only the latter estimates are statistically significant. Moreover, we observe less negative effect estimates in the second year of the program.

The Competitive Effects of the Louisiana Scholarship Program On Public School Performance
Source: Anna J. Egalite, SSRN, February 24, 2016

Given the significant growth rate and geographic expansion of private school choice programs over the past two decades, it is important to examine how traditional public schools respond to the sudden injection of competition for students and resources. This article uses 1) a school fixed effects approach, and 2) a regression discontinuity framework to examine the achievement impacts of the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP). This targeted school voucher program has provided public funds for low-income students in low-performing public schools to enroll in participating private schools since the 2012-13 school year. The main findings of the competitive effects analysis reveal neutral to positive impacts that are small in magnitude. Effects are largest for students attending those public schools most affected by the competitive threat. Policy implications are discussed.

Measures of Student Non-Cognitive Skills and Political Tolerance after Two Years Of The Louisiana Scholarship Program
Source: Jonathan N. Mills, Albert Cheng, Collin Hitt, Patrick J. Wolf, Jay P. Greene, SSRN, February 24, 2016

This report examines the short-term effects of the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP) on students’ non-cognitive skills and civic values. While a growing number of studies have evaluated K-12 school voucher programs along academic dimensions, few have focused on the development of non-cognitive skills and civic values. This study aims to address that gap by providing the first analysis of differences in self-reported measures of grit, locus of control, self esteem, and political tolerance associated with the LSP. Using results from a phone survey of applicants to the program, we find little evidence of differences between LSP scholarship recipients and non-recipients. Nevertheless, diagnostics assessing the precision of our instruments to detect differences between subjects indicate that several of the scales measuring non-cognitive skills performed poorly in our sample. Moreover, our relatively low survey response rate of 11 percent raises concerns about the representativeness of our sample. Given these issues, we caution that our results are best understood as descriptive and not necessarily conclusive: they do not represent reliable estimates of the causal impact of the LSP on student non-cognitive skills and political tolerance.

Do school vouchers improve results? It depends on what we ask
Source: Joshua Cohen, The Conversation, March 2, 2016

A set of reports on Louisiana’s statewide school voucher program recently revealed a number of important features of that program’s operation and overall performance. The most startling of these reports indicated that students who used school vouchers performed much worse on standardized tests than those who remained in traditional public schools. This result echoes evidence presented last month from a separate team of scholars, who found negative impacts after one year of voucher use in Louisiana. The latest study not only confirmed that finding, but showed the pattern persisting – albeit less severely – after two years of voucher use as well.

School Vouchers and Student Achievement: First-Year Evidence from the Louisiana Scholarship Program
Source: Atila Abdulkadiroglu, Parag A. Pathak, and Christopher Walters, NBER Working Paper No. w21839, December 2015

We evaluate the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), a prominent school voucher plan. The LSP provides public funds for disadvantaged students at low-performing Louisiana public schools to attend private schools of their choice. LSP vouchers are allocated by random lottery at schools with more eligible applicants than available seats. We estimate causal effects of voucher receipt by comparing outcomes for lottery winners and losers in the first year after the program expanded statewide. This comparison reveals that LSP participation substantially reduces academic achievement. Attendance at an LSP-eligible private school lowers math scores by 0.4 standard deviations and increases the likelihood of a failing score by 50 percent. Voucher effects for reading, science and social studies are also negative and large. The negative impacts of vouchers are consistent across income groups, geographic areas, and private school characteristics, and are larger for younger children. These effects are not explained by the quality of fallback public schools for LSP applicants: students lotteried out of the program attend public schools with scores below the Louisiana average. Survey data show that LSP-eligible private schools experience rapid enrollment declines prior to entering the program, indicating that the LSP may attract private schools struggling to maintain enrollment. These results suggest caution in the design of voucher systems aimed at expanding school choice for disadvantaged students.