Research shows school choice a “Win” for kids in Florida

Greg Forster, Ph.D., from the Friedman Foundation, in the report A Win-Win Solution states, “This report surveys the empirical research on school choice. It provides a thorough overview of what the research has found on five key topics: Academic outcomes of choice participants; Academic outcomes of public schools; Fiscal impact on taxpayers; Racial segregation in schools; [and] Civic values and practices.”

“The evidence points clearly in one direction. Opponents frequently claim school choice does not benefit participants, hurts public schools, costs taxpayers, facilitates segregation, and even undermines democracy. However, the empirical evidence consistently shows that choice improves academic outcomes for participants and public schools, saves taxpayer money, moves students into more integrated classrooms, and strengthens the shared civic values and practices essential to American democracy,” writes Dr. Forster.

The report found in Florida, “A 2003 study by Jay Greene and Greg Forster found that disabled students using Florida’s voucher program for children with special needs got better services and had better outcomes in private schools than those same students had received in public schools. This method is much better for purposes of measuring the impact of vouchers on those students. However, it limits the generalizability of the finding to others.”

The report notes:

Eleven empirical studies have been conducted on how two voucher programs and one tax-credit scholarship program in Florida have affected academic outcomes at public schools. All 11 unanimously find that choice has improved Florida public schools. One of these programs made all students at under performing schools eligible for vouchers, so researchers were able to measure the impact of vouchers in two ways: comparing performance at the same school before and after voucher eligibility, and comparing very similar schools that were just over or just under the threshold for voucher eligibility. [My emphasis]

Researchers also were able to measure the impact of “voucher threat” at low performing schools that were in danger of becoming eligible for vouchers. For the other two programs (a voucher program for students with special needs and a tax-credit scholarship program for low-income students) researchers used methods similar to those used in Milwaukee.

Dr. Forster wrote, “[N]ine studies of Florida’s voucher program targeting under performing schools show that it improved those schools simply by threatening them with vouchers. It is also worth noting that a number of studies have tracked the achievement of individual students rather than whole schools and still found that school choice improves outcomes for students who remain in public schools.”

Under Alternative Theories the report found:

Two alternative theories focus on voucher programs targeting under performing schools in Florida and Ohio. One speculates that these programs produce
a “stigma effect”—schools assigned failing grades by the state improve to remove the stigma of being labeled as failing, rather than responding to vouchers. But stigma cannot explain the positive findings for Milwaukee, Florida’s two other programs, or the century-old “town tuitioning” voucher systems in Maine and Vermont. Also, seven studies have used various methods to check for the possibility of a stigma effect. All found that vouchers had a positive impact independent of any stigma effect. (See Table 2)

“Fiscal analyses are not just conducted by academic social scientists; states conduct them for a variety of purposes. The first of two publicly available fiscal analyses of school choice programs conducted by a state was released in 2008 by Florida’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability. It found that Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program saved the state $39 million in fiscal year 2007-08 because reduced education costs were greater than foregone tax revenue by $1.49 per student,” notes the report.

Florida’s Legislative Office of Economic and Demographic Research produced the second state published fiscal analysis of a school choice program in 2012. The results of the analysis were published with only a sparse supporting narrative explaining the method, which limits the reader’s ability to assess its methodological quality. However, it is still worth noting. The office found that Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program was saving the state $23 million per year as of 2011-12. (See Table 3)

The report concludes, “Given the remarkably unanimous research on the impact of choice everywhere it is allowed to affect public schools, it is clear it is having a positive effect.”