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

Panel Paper: An Evaluation of Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Skills in the Louisiana Scholarship Program

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

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jonathan Mills, Albert Cheng and Patrick Wolf, University of Arkansas
The Louisiana Scholarships Program (LSP) is a statewide program offering publicly-funded vouchers to enroll in local private schools to students in low-performing schools with family incomes no greater than 250 percent of the poverty line. Initially established in 2008 as a pilot program in New Orleans, the LSP was expanded to a statewide program in 2012. In the first year of program expansion, nearly 10,000 eligible students applied for an LSP scholarship; and over 5,000 of these students received a scholarship totaling on average $5,300. This paper examines how student measures of cognitive and non-cognitive skills changed in response to the program.

First, we estimate the effects using an LSP scholarship to enroll in a private school on student achievement in the first year of the program expansion. 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 LSP. Results from an earlier analysis indicate that LSP scholarship use had large statistically significant negative impacts on both math and ELA achievement after one year of program participation. In this paper we explore the extent to which these negative findings persist into the second year of the program.

In addition, we compare the distribution of non-cognitive skills in our treatment and control groups. A burgeoning research literature suggests that non-cognitive skills positively affect long-term life outcomes, independently of cognitive skills (Almlund, et al., 2011; Heckman et al., 2006; Duckworth & Seligman, 2009). At the same time, few studies have examined the relationship between schools of choice and non-cognitive skills (Mills, 2013). We supplement this gap in the literature using telephone survey of students who applied to the Louisiana Scholarship Program for the 2012-2013 school year. We administer questionnaires measuring a variety of non-cognitive outcomes including, grit, locus of control, self-esteem, political tolerance, and the prevalence of racial integration among student friendship networks. Based on this analysis of over 650 students, we do not find any programmatic impacts on any these outcomes.

This paper benefits the existing literature on the participant effects of publicly funded voucher programs for two reasons. First, it is the first study to examine the academic effects of a statewide voucher program via experimental design. Second, our phone survey data allow us to perform one of the first examinations of the distributions of non-cognitive skills associated with a voucher program. These contributions will add to the existing knowledge on the effects of publicly funded voucher programs.

Recently, statewide school voucher programs open to large populations of students based on their family income and/or their enrollment in a failing public school have been launched in Indiana, Wisconsin, and Louisiana.