Research: School Vouchers Boost College Attendance

Research by the School Choice Demonstration Project based at the University of Arkansas has shown that the school voucher program in Milwaukee increased the chance of students graduating from high school and going on to college.

The findings come after five years of evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which was the first school voucher program of its kind when it started in 1990.

John Witte, professor of political science and public affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said:

“Our clearest positive finding is that the Choice Program boosts the rates at which students graduate from high school, enroll in a four-year college, and persist in college.

“Since educational attainment is linked to positive life outcomes such as higher lifetime earnings and lower rates of incarceration, this is a very encouraging result of the program.”

Witte co-produced the evaluations with Patrick Wolf, holder of the Twenty-First Century Chair in School Choice at the University of Arkansas and director of the School Choice Demonstration Project, and a team of researchers.

Wolf said:

“Our final set of reports on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program represent the last word on the first private school choice program targeted to low-income inner-city students in the U.S. – a pioneering program that operated for 22 years and paved the way for 25 voucher and tax-credit scholarship programs that have come in its wake.

“Our findings include several ‘no significant difference’ results but also some evidence that participation in MPCP or enrollment in an independent public charter school has produced better student outcomes than those experienced by similar students in Milwaukee Public schools.”

The detailed evaluation found that the achievement growth between students in the voucher program was higher in reading but similar in math than their non-voucher peers.

And when looking at the students who took the state accountability test, students in the voucher program performed at higher levels in the upper grades in reading and science when compared to Milwaukee Public School students with similar income disadvantages. Voucher students performed at lower levels in math at all grade levels examined and in reading and science in fourth grade.

This echoes results from Indiana. The school voucher system, whereby students can have up to 90 percent of the cost of tuition paid for them, has aided almost 4,000 Indiana students who have been attending private schools in the last year.

The program’s first-year cap was 7,500, and although this was not reached, advocates of the taxpayer-funded plan are said to be pleased with the participation level.

As the voucher law matures into its second year, as many as 15,000 students will benefit from the program.