Magazine article Chicago Policy Review (Online)

The Data Doesn’t Seem to Be Vouching for Vouchers

Magazine article Chicago Policy Review (Online)

The Data Doesn’t Seem to Be Vouching for Vouchers

Article excerpt

Arguments supporting private management of schools date back to the founding of the United States and have reflected a variety of ideological positions. The call for privatization policies like school vouchers intensified in the mid-20th century due largely to the assertions of economist Milton Friedman. Friedman proposed that the government should provide funds for schools but should not directly provide instruction, reasoning that the free-market would inherently improve educational outcomes through competition. In addition, at the height of the civil rights movement, the call for vouchers resonated with policymakers seeking a mechanism with which to resist integration of schools. Recently, the push for vouchers has been more openly adopted by those who seek to use government dollars to fund religious education, with evidence suggesting Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos falls into this camp.

In a recent study, Jonathan Mills and Patrick Wolf examine the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), a voucher program that began as a pilot program in New Orleans in 2008 and was expanded four years later by Governor Bobby Jindal to the entire state. The researchers note that Louisiana is not the first place to utilize vouchers for its students. Across the nation, the results of these programs have been mixed. For example, according to Mills and Wolf’s literature survey, Florida’s system appears to be benefiting students near the eligibility cut off in terms of reading but not math. At the same time, a voucher program in Charlotte, North Carolina, has not produced improvements in student outcomes despite increasing funding. Studies of the voucher program in Ohio have shown a negative impact on students who participate.

In the case of the LSP, the statewide expansion of the program provided the opportunity for 5,000 low- and middle-income students to transfer to private schools with state funds. In many cities and states that design voucher programs, eligibility is targeted-most often at low-income families. Louisiana’s program goes one step further because it is double targeted. To qualify, students must not only come from low-income families but also attend low-performing schools. …

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