Vouchers have improved public schools in San Antonio program

Greg Forster and Jay P. Greene:


While Texas doesn't have a government-sponsored school choice program, San Antonio has had a voucher program funded with private contributions since 1998. It allows students in public schools in the Edgewood school district to attend private schools they otherwise couldn't afford.

Many people think that voucher programs will hurt public schools, draining them of the talent and resources they need to succeed. Others suggest that vouchers will improve public schools by exposing them to greater competition. Because most students will remain in public schools even with a voucher program, the most important empirical issue about vouchers is determining how they will affect achievement in public schools.

We conducted an analysis to determine whether Edgewood's public schools have been improving or declining since the creation of the voucher program. We compared the year-to-year changes in Edgewood's performance with those of other Texas school districts, controlling for factors such as race and income.

We found that Edgewood started producing outstanding academic improvements after the voucher program was created. What had long been an extremely troubled school district began to outperform 85 percent of Texas school districts given their demographic characteristics.

That may come as a surprise, but it shouldn't. Nationwide, there is a large body of research finding that public schools exposed to vouchers make superior test score gains, including four independent studies in Florida, two in Milwaukee, and one each in Maine and Vermont.

On top of all this, we are not aware of any empirical studies in the United States that have found that public schools get worse because of school vouchers. That's an impressive track record.

The evidence that vouchers work for the students who use them is even stronger. There have been eight studies of vouchers that used "random assignment," the scientific gold standard, to compare very similar treatment and control groups. Seven of the eight studies found that voucher students outperformed students who applied for vouchers but did not receive them. The eighth also found higher test scores for voucher students, but the result failed to achieve statistical significance.

The teachers and Democrats opposition to vouchers is misguided and counter productive. Their fear of competition is making schools worse and less accountable. It is time for a national vucher program in every troubled school district. The opposition to such programs is hurting the students and the country.


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