Panel Paper: Overall and Heterogeneous Achievement Effects of the Louisiana Scholarship Program over Time

Thursday, November 8, 2018
Hoover - Mezz Level (Marriott Wardman Park)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Patrick J. Wolf, Jonathan N. Mills and Matthew Lee, University of Arkansas

The Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP) is a school voucher program that offers publicly-funded scholarships to students from economically-disadvantaged families to attend a participating private school of their choice. Originally launched as a pilot project in New Orleans in 2008, the initiative was expanded statewide in 2012. A total of 9,736 eligible students applied to the voucher program for the 2012-13 school year and 5,296 received LSP vouchers. Market theory suggests that student outcomes should improve when educational choices are expanded. Market critics, however, predict that access to private schools of choice will have negative or null effects on student outcomes.

This paper examines how LPS scholarship usage affected student achievement after four and five years of participation. While initial research indicated negative achievement effects after one year of participation (Abdulkadiroglu, Pathak & Walters, 2016; Mills, 2015), impact estimates attenuated somewhat by year two (Mills & Wolf, 2017). The results after three years are inconclusive and might reasonably be null or even positive given the high level of statistical uncertainty involved (Mills & Wolf, 2017).

This paper extends this work by estimating achievement effects of the LSP after 4 and 5 years for a consistent sample of students in the 2012-13 cohort. Our analysis uses oversubscription lotteries for the eligible applicants to estimate the LSP achievement impacts as a randomized control trial (RCT). Admission lotteries are used as instrumental variables to estimate the effect of using an LSP scholarship to enroll in one’s first-choice private school for applicants induced to attend a private school as a result of winning the lottery. Our analysis uses student-level data obtained via a data-sharing agreement with the state of Louisiana, with achievement measured by student performance on the criterion-referenced tests mandated by the state for public school accountability purposes.

We examine overall effects, as well as the extent to which effects are moderated by student gender, race, and level of baseline performance. In addition, we conduct an exploratory analysis investigating if the test score impacts of the LSP are mediated by the chosen private school’s religious affiliation, geographic location, school tuition, enrollment, student-teacher ratio, instructional hours, or student demographics. This new exploratory element of our on-going evaluation will provide suggestive evidence regarding the kinds of schools in which LSP students are experiencing relatively higher or lower achievement effects from the program.

This study benefits the existing literature on the participant 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, this study will provide a more detailed understanding of the persistence of the negative effects estimated in the year-one impact evaluation of the LSP. Finally, by exploring how effects are mediated by school characteristics, this study contributes to a comprehensive understanding of one of the largest private school voucher programs in the United States. These contributions will add to the existing knowledge on the effects of publicly funded voucher programs.