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School choice program benefits public school students

It is clear there is room for improvement in public schools, but any mention of expanding educational choice as part of the solution sends school choice critics into a tizzy.

But a new paper provides insightful and compelling evidence that a private school choice program has actually ended up benefitting the public school students critics claim it would harm.

Researchers David Figlio, Cassandra Hart and Krzysztof Karbownik analyzed a massive scale-up of a Florida private school choice program (the Florida Tax Credit program) and the affects it had on public school students’ outcomes. The competitive pressure of the scholarship program led to substantial gains for the students remaining at the public schools, including better student outcomes.

Expansion of the program produced modestly larger benefits for students attending public schools that had a larger initial degree of private school options, measured prior to the introduction of the voucher program. These benefits include higher standardized test scores and lower absenteeism and suspension rates. Effects are particularly pronounced for lower-income students, but results are positive for more affluent students as well.

According to a 2019 report by EdChoice, 25 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have a voucher or scholarship program in place designed to help students with disabilities or low-income students access a school of choice.

The Florida Tax Credit (FTC) program provides dollar-for-dollar tax credits from individuals and corporations that donate to non-profit Scholarship Funding Organizations (SFOs) who then use the contributions to offer private school scholarships to low-income students previously enrolled in public schools. The program has grown from funding 11,550 students at 924 private schools in 2004 to 108,098 students attending 1,818 private schools in 2018.

The growth of school choice programs in the United States makes Figlio, Hart, and Karbownik’s research extremely valuable. Their compelling results put to rest critics’ claim that school choice hurts students who remain at their traditional public school and destroys public schools—school choice ends up doing the opposite.

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