Vouchers Hurt: The Truth about Academic Outcomes
Despite enduring unpopularity with Arizona voters and poor outcomes for students, Arizona lawmakers remain myopically focused on expanding private school vouchers at all costs. Pushed by out-of-state special interests, these lawmakers ignore the reality that vouchers hurt our students and our communities. This is the first in a 4-part blog series called “Vouchers Hurt.”
Private school vouchers do not improve student achievement or academic outcomes. Despite the billions of dollars spent by special interests trying to prove otherwise, there is no arguing with the facts.
Vouchers Do Not Raise Student Achievement
Over a dozen recent studies from recent years demonstrate that vouchers have “no statistically significant effect on student achievement.” Experts at Public Funds for Public Schools (PFPS) compiled studies from all around the country that overwhelmingly show voucher students “have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.” We have shared here some summaries from PFPS:
- A 2019 study on the academic effects of the Louisiana voucher program by researchers at the University of Arkansas found that after four years, students using the vouchers to attend private schools “performed noticeably worse on state assessments than their [public school] control group counterparts.”
- A 2018 evaluation by the Institute for Social Science Research at the University of Alabama of the academic achievement of Alabama’s tax credit voucher recipients during the 2016-2017 school year found that “scholarship recipients generally performed below the average U.S. student at their grade level.”
- A 2019 study published in the Russel Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences found significant losses in academic achievement for Indiana students who used a voucher to move from public to private school.
- A 2018 report by the Institute for Education Sciences (IES) evaluated the impact of Washington, D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) after two years of participation in the program. Math scores were a statistically significant 10 percentile points lower for students who used a private school voucher compared with students who applied but did not receive a voucher.
- A 2016 study of Louisiana’s private school voucher program found that students who performed at about the 50th percentile in math and reading prior to participation in the voucher program dropped approximately 24 percentage points in their first year of private school.
- A 2016 study of the Ohio private school voucher program conducted by a conservative think tank, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and funded by the pro-voucher Walton Foundation, found voucher students “have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools…Such impacts also appear to persist over time, suggesting that the results are not driven simply by the setbacks that typically accompany any change of school.”
Even more details are available at pfps.org/research.
Students Need Resources, Not Vouchers
Voucher expansion bills are typically predicated on the notion that removing students from their public schools and placing those children in private schools will lead to better academic outcomes. However, when studies control for factors such as family income (a strong predictor of student success), any gains are erased. Instead, many voucher-using students perform worse than their public school counterparts and exhibit lower academic success.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan Economic Policy Institute found that the risks to schools, children, and communities outweigh any gains. In a 2017 report, the nonprofit found that it is an “ideological preference for education markets over equity and public accountability” that drives the push to expand voucher programs. They argue that this ideology does not provide a compelling reason to push vouchers, while the risks include increased school segregation and less experienced teachers in public schools. The report finds that parental and school choice is “better accomplished by supporting and strengthening neighborhood public schools with a menu of proven policies, from early childhood education to after-school and summer programs to improved teacher pre-service training.”
Prioritize Public Education
At Save Our Schools Arizona Network, we aim to change the conversation. We should not be focusing on plucking students from “failing schools”; instead, we should be asking why Arizona has “failing schools” to begin with. Policy makers should be focused on ensuring equitably funded schools that provide quality teachers and resources for all students. A staggering 91% of voters agree that every school should have the resources it needs to deliver quality education that prepares every child for the future. We call upon Arizona lawmakers to make this a reality.