School Voucher Program Students Commit Fewer Crimes, Study Suggests


Researchers at the University of Arkansas  performed an evaluation of a Milwaukee school voucher program, finding that students who make use of the program in order to enroll in private high schools are less likely to commit crimes than peers who attended public high schools.

The results of the analysis are included in the paper, “The School Choice Voucher: A ‘Get Out of Jail’ Card?” written by Corey DeAngelis, a doctoral student in education policy, and Patrick J. Wolf, who holds the Twenty-First Century Chair in School Choice.  The paper was presented by the pair at the annual meeting of the Southern Political Science Association in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Several studies taking a closer look at the Milwaukee program conducted at the University of Arkansas have previously been directed by Wolf for the School Choice Demonstration Project.  The studies discussed a variety of topics, including student achievement, high school graduation rates, college enrollment rates, promotion of civic values, and parental satisfaction.

The paper also states that schools can be considered to be social institutions that work to improve upon the non-cognitive skills of students.  Once combined with academic achievement, these skills can help students attain a better life outcome, which can then be measured by lifetime earnings, employment, and citizenship.  The current study analyzes citizenship through adult criminal activity.

Data was taken from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program to complete the first analysis of the effect of a private school choice program on the criminal behavior of young adults.  Milwaukee is the first to create an urban publicly funded tuition voucher system, which was implemented in 1990.  The district currently enrolls over 27,000 students at more than 110 private schools.

Students who use vouchers were matched for the study with students at public high schools through data concerning grade, neighborhood, race, gender, English language learner status, and math and reading tests.  Family characteristics such as income, family composition, and parental education were all controlled for.  The pair made use of the Wisconsin Court System Circuit Court Access system to find cases involving former students who had previously been in the program for a longitudinal study between 2006 and 2011, involving students who were 22 to 25 years old during the criminal database search.

Results of that study suggested that those students who used a voucher to attend a private high school were less likely to commit a misdemeanor by the time they were young adults by five to seven percentage points, less likely to commit a felon by three percentage points, and less likely to be accused of any crime by anywhere between five and 12 percentage points.

The effects of the program were found to be more clear for men, who the researchers say tend to commit more crimes than women.