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Ask critics of school choice programs why they oppose the initiatives and they are quick to argue that expanding educational freedom will harm traditional school districts.
But as I have written time and time again, the overwhelming number of empirical studies on school choice programs have found that more often than not they don’t have the feared negative impacts.
A new study out of Ohio on the state’s largest voucher program, EdChoice, adds to this list, analyzing the impacts of the performance-based program on school district enrollments, finances, and educational outcomes. Authored by Ohio State University professor Dr. Stéphane Lavertu, the report’s analysis of 13 years of data (from the program’s start in fall 2006 through 2019) found that EdChoice improved district achievement, reduced district segregation, and did not impact district per-pupil expenditures, shared the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who commissioned the report.
One talking point against school choice programs is that they “hurt” the students who remain behind at the traditional public schools. But Lavertu found that EdChoice “did not harm district students and, in fact, led to modest achievement gains.” While the affected districts still have room to improve academically, “these incremental improvements suggest that a more competitive environment may have helped focus districts on academic success.”
This is in line with the findings of other studies on the impact of school choice on public schools, including one on Florida’s tax credit program that discovered the competitive pressure of the program led to better student outcomes for those remaining at the public schools.
Geographic boundaries and residential patterns in Ohio have meant a history of district segregation (long before vouchers existed), wrote the Fordham Institute, but Ohio’s school choice program has actually helped “to lessen district segregation — no doubt reflecting the strong participation of Black and Hispanic students in the program.”
With such large numbers of Black and Hispanic students moving to the private school sector, the likelihood that public school students are in a racially “isolated” school has declined.
School choice critics’ main assertion is that choice programs “drain” public schools. (Again, the overwhelming evidence is that this doesn’t happen.)
Same results for Ohio’s EdChoice program — districts’ per-pupil expenditures did not decrease. As the Thomas Fordham Institute summarizes:
The neutral fiscal impact should be expected. While seeing reductions in state aid when students participate in choice programs, districts experience an increase in local funding per pupil, because those taxpayer dollars do not “follow” voucher (or charter) students to their schools of choice.
I have made this argument before. Under a school choice program, yes, a district doesn’t receive the state dollars for that student, but they are also relieved of the costs of educating that child. A public school has no right to taxpayer money for students it doesn’t teach. And the school still receives local and federal funds for fixed overhead costs.
Those who continue to spout accusations against choice programs aren’t interested in data. Instead, they are blinded by their loyalty to the education establishment. Thank goodness the 60,000+ students being served by Ohio’s school choice program don’t have to pay the price for such self-interest.
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