Panel Paper: School Vouchers and Student Outcomes

Friday, November 9, 2012 : 1:40 PM
Hanover A (Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

John Witte, University of Wisconsin - Madison, Deven Carlson, University of Oklahoma, Joshua Cowen, University of Kentucky, David Fleming, Furman University and Patrick Wolf, University of Arkansas

In this paper we report summary results from a five-year evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP).  The MPCP, which began in 1990, provides government-funded vouchers for low-income children to attend private schools. The maximum voucher amount in 2010-11, the last year of data collected, was $6,442. More than 20,000 children used a voucher to attend either secular or religious private schools by that year. This evaluation was authorized by 2005 Wisconsin Act 125, which was enacted in 2006. We analyze student achievement (test score) growth four years after we carefully assembled longitudinal study panels of MPCP and Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) students, in 2006-07.  We also consider high school graduation and post-secondary enrollment for students who were in 8th and 9th grade when the study began in 2006.

The primary finding that emerges from these analyses is that, for the 2010-11 school year, the students in the MPCP sample exhibit larger growth from a base year in reading achievement than MPS students.  This was the first and only year such an achievement growth advantage was observed after 2006. Some analyses indicate that the students in the MPCP sample also exhibit larger growth in math achievement, but the results are not conclusive. Additional evidence suggests that growth in the final year of our study was driven in large part by the implementation of a high-stakes accountability program—a result explored further in a full-length companion paper also proposed with this panel.  Results from the attainment analysis indicate that exposure to voucher schools was related to graduation and, in particular, to enrollment and persistence in a four-year college. These differences exist despite controls for student neighborhoods, demographics, early-career test scores and—for a sub-sample of survey respondents—controls for parental education, income and religious behavior. Our paper concludes by discussing these results in the context of both educational policy and future research on school choice outcomes.