Indiana University SPEA Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy University of Pennsylvania AIR American University

Panel Paper: The Effect of Housing Voucher Receipt on Student Achievement and Attainment: Evidence from Wisconsin

Saturday, November 14, 2015 : 10:35 AM
Miami Lecture Hall (Hyatt Regency Miami)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Deven Carlson1, Robert Haveman2, Hannah Miller2 and Barbara Wolfe2, (1)University of Oklahoma, (2)University of Wisconsin – Madison
The Section 8 voucher program is the primary tenant-based approach for providing housing assistance to low-income households in the U.S. Under this program, voucher recipients contribute 30 percent of their income toward rent, and the voucher subsidizes the difference between the tenant contribution and the actual rent, up to a locally defined “fair market rent.” In this paper we estimate the effect of Section 8 voucher receipt on students’ educational outcomes, particularly student achievement and attainment. Voucher receipt could affect students’ educational outcomes through several mechanisms, including reduced family stress, increased income, decreased school moves, or access to higher quality schools. Each of these factors has been shown to affect educational outcomes (Duncan, Morris, & Rodrigues 2011; Hanushek, Kain, & Rivkin 2004; Morris, Duncan, & Clark-Kauffman 2005; Xu, Hannaway, & D’Souza 2009).

Our analysis draws on a unique dataset that links information on all Wisconsin households receiving means-tested benefits with the educational performance of all students attending Wisconsin public schools. Specifically, it draws on a dataset that we constructed from records contained in the Wisconsin Client Assistance for Re-employment and Economic Support (CARES), the Wisconsin Information System for Education (WISE), and Wisconsin Unemployment Insurance (UI) databases. CARES contains extensive information on all individuals in households that applied for or received benefits from any program administered by the State of Wisconsin since 2000 (e.g., TANF, SNAP, Medicaid, publicly-subsidized child care). WISE contains annual student-level records (e.g., grade level, test scores, demographic characteristics, attendance history) since 2005 for all students attending public schools in Wisconsin. Finally, the UI database contains quarterly earnings records for nearly all individuals employed in a non-farm job in Wisconsin.

Using this dataset, we use two strategies to obtain plausibly causal estimates of the effect of voucher receipt on educational outcomes under different sets of assumptions. First, we estimate the effect of voucher receipt on educational outcomes by comparing outcomes for children living in households that receive a housing voucher in year t to outcomes for children living in households that receive a voucher only beginning in year t+3. Because both cohorts ultimately received a voucher, unobserved characteristics that may select some families into voucher receipt are controlled for by this approach. Second, we employ a difference-in-differences approach that exploits over-time variation in benefit receipt to estimate the effect of voucher receipt on student achievement and attainment outcomes. This approach takes advantage of the fact that we have information on children’s academic outcomes both pre- and post-receipt in order to compare the difference in outcomes over time for children who received a voucher to those who did not. Together, our analyses will provide valuable evidence on the ability of a major means-tested benefit program to improve the well-being of recipient children.