Panel Paper: Participant and Competitive Effects of the Louisiana Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program, First Year Impacts

Friday, November 8, 2013 : 1:55 PM
Scott (Westin Georgetown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jonathan Mills, Patrick Wolf, Anna Egalite and Jay Greene, University of Arkansas
The Louisiana Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program (SSEEP) is a statewide program offering low-income students in low-performing schools publicly-funded vouchers to enroll in local private schools. Initially established in 2008 as a pilot program in New Orleans, the SSEEP was expanded to a statewide program in 2012. This paper examines the effects of being randomly assigned to receive a private school voucher on student achievement in the first year of the expanded program as well as the effects of the competitive pressures induced by the program on public school student achievement.

There are two requirements for SSEEP eligibility. First, students must have family incomes no greater than 250 percent of the federal poverty line. Second, eligible students must have been enrolled in a public school receiving a state accountability grade of C, D, or F in the prior year, must be entering kindergarten in the current year, or must have been enrolled in a Recovery School District in the prior school year. Eligible applicants provided state officials with a “choice set” consisting of an ordinal ranking of up to five potential private schools. Due to oversubscription in the first year, SSEEP vouchers were awarded to eligible applicants via a centralized lottery. Lottery winners were given a voucher worth up to 90 percent of the combined state and local per pupil funding amount to use towards private school tuition and fees.

In this study, we use the results of the oversubscription lotteries for nearly 10,000 eligible applicants to analyze the achievement impacts of SSEEP as a randomized control trial (RCT). In particular, we compare the achievement of students randomly assigned to receive a voucher with students who had the same private school choice set who were not assigned a voucher. Student-level data have been obtained via a data-sharing agreement with the state of Louisiana. Given the experimental nature of this study, any differences in outcomes can be causally attributed to the SSEEP.

In addition, we examine the question of whether competitive pressure from the SSEEP school choice program improved student achievement in affected public schools. This portion of the analysis makes use of the state accountability grades assigned to Louisiana traditional public schools. Specifically, we use the discontinuity between the otherwise highly similar low-B and high-C schools as an instrumental variable to predict student subsequent student test scores. If competition from the school choice program improves the affected public schools, then student test-scores should increase more in high-C schools than in low-B schools.

This study benefits the existing literature on the participant and competitive effects of publicly funded voucher programs for three reasons. First, it uses a highly rigorous experimental design to estimate treatment effects while avoiding endogeneity concerns. Second, it constitutes the largest evaluation of a publicly funded voucher program in the United States to date. Finally, it is the first evaluation of a statewide voucher program. These contributions will add to the existing knowledge on the effects of publicly funded voucher programs.