What are the benefits?

Currently 14 states and Washington, DC, provide some form of publicly-funded voucher scholarship program for students. A number of states also offer tax credit scholarship programs, in which taxpayers receive a tax credit for donations they make to nonprofit organizations providing scholarships to students. Many of these scholarship programs target those students with the greatest need for financial assistance―these are students who would otherwise be unable to attend a private school.

Participation rates reveal these scholarship programs are quite popular. But what does the research say?  Do such scholarship programs benefit students? Do they harm public schools? And do they save taxpayer dollars?

A May 2016 Friedman Foundation report by Dr. Greg Forster provides the latest run-down on the evidence:

  • Choice is linked to improved academic performance for participating students: 18 empirical studies have evaluated choice students’ academic outcomes using a rigorous random assignment research design; of these 18 studies, 14 have found an improvement in academic outcomes for students participating in these programs.
  • Choice also generally benefits public school students academically: 33 empirical studies have looked at how school choice programs affect public schools academically; of these 33 studies, 31 found a positive academic impact of school choice programs on public school performance.
  • Choice programs actually save money: 28 studies have assessed the financial impact of school choice programs on taxpayers and public schools; of these 28 studies, 25 found that school choice saved taxpayer dollars. No study has found “a negative fiscal impact.”

 Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

For targeted insight into the benefits of publicly-funded scholarship programs, consider the successes of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which began in 1990 as the nation’s first contemporary choice program. The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program provides private school vouchers to children from low-income families in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The program served almost 28,000 students during the 2015-16 school year.  The Milwaukee Parental School Choice Program provides grants of up to $7,214 per student per year, K-8, and $7,860 per student per year for grades 9-12. After 25 years, how are students in the program faring?

Academic and Other Outcomes

  • Milwaukee scholarship students are outperforming their public school peers on state tests in both English Language Arts and math.
  • Milwaukee scholarship students are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college than their public school peers.
  • Milwaukee scholarship students who stay in the program through 12th grade may be less likely to commit crimes as adults than comparable groups of students who attended public school. A 2016 longitudinal study from Corey DeAngelis and Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas found that adults who participated in the MPCP through 12th grade were less likely to commit crimes than their peers who had attended public schools.

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