Researchers Describe New Findings On Louisiana Voucher Program

Jun 26, 2017 | Education Reform

Researchers from the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas and the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University released findings from their study of the third year of results from the Louisiana Scholarship Program at an event Monday, June 26, at the Urban Institute in Washington.

Patrick Wolf, holder of the Twenty-First Century Chair in School Choice at the U of A, co-authored a summary of the latest reports on the publicly funded private school choice program in Louisiana with Jonathan Mills, a senior research associate in the Department of Education Reform at the U of A. Wolf directs the School Choice Demonstration Project.

Wolf will speak as part of a panel that also includes Beth Blaufuss, president of Archbishop Carroll High School; Matthew Chingos, director of the Education Policy Program at the Urban Institute; Douglas Harris, director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans at Tulane University; and John White, Louisiana state superintendent of education. The event is called “Making Sense of New Evidence on Private School Vouchers.”

Student performance in Louisiana has trailed national averages for decades. In 2008, the state began its effort to turn this around with publicly financed scholarships for students to attend private schools in New Orleans. This pilot version of the Louisiana Scholarship Program was expanded statewide in 2012. A total of 9,736 students applied to the program that year, with 5,296 receiving scholarships. The program awarded 7,110 scholarships in 2015-16.

The researchers have released four studies previously examining how the program has affected key student and community conditions. The first study found that, initially, the program negatively affected student achievement, especially in math. The second reported no clear effect on non-cognitive outcomes such as grit and conscientiousness. The third suggested that competition from the scholarship program either did not affect or had small positive effects on student achievement in public schools. The fourth found evidence that student transfers into the program tended to improve the racial makeup of the public schools they left.

The new reports, on which today’s event is based, offer three additional findings:

  • Overall, participating in the Louisiana Scholarship Program has no statistically significant impact on student English language arts or math scores after three years. The subgroup of students who were lower achieving before applying to the program did show significant gains in English three years later. Students applying to lower grades demonstrated significant losses in math.
  • Students without disabilities were less likely to be identified as having them if they participated in the program than if they did not; and, students with disabilities were more likely to be de-identified as requiring special education services if they participated in the private school choice program.
  • The private schools that chose to participate in the program disproportionately were Catholic, had low tuitions that were close to the voucher amount, and served a high percentage of minority students.

A paper with more detail on the research can be read on the School Choice Demonstration Project website.

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