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Florida School Voucher Programs Show Positive Results, Study Finds

February 26, 2019
By Bill Eastland

Students more likely to go to and graduate from college

School choice in Florida has positive outcomes for participating students, a study by the Urban Institute reports.

Students who enroll in private school through the Florida Tax Credit Program (FTC) are more likely to go to and graduate from college than their public-school peers, the study found.

The FTC program is a big success, says Arianna Wilkerson, a state government relations manager at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News.

“FTC, which serves economically disadvantaged students, is the largest private school choice program in the country, and the evidence shows it’s also quite successful,” Wilkerson said.

Consistent Results

The Florida Tax Credit Program (FTC) provides a dollar-for-dollar credit on corporate income taxes and insurance premium taxes for donations to scholarship-funding organizations (SFOs). FTC provides scholarships for more than 100,000 students each year.

The new study is an update of a 2017 Urban Institute analysis that found college enrollment and associate degree attainment increased for students who participated in the program at any point in their schooling.

The current study, released on February 4, used National Student Clearinghouse data for a larger sample of some 80,000 FTC participants.

The study compares FTC students with demographically and academically similar students who remained in public schools, according to study authors Matthew Chingos, Tomas Monarrez, and Daniel Kuehn.

Across-the-Board Improvement

FTC students are significantly more likely than nonparticipants to continue on to college, the study found.

“Fifty-seven percent of FTC students enrolled in college, compared with 51 percent of non-FTC students,” the authors write. “This is a 12 percent increase. FTC students had higher college-going rates in all sectors: two-year, four-year public, and four-year private colleges. Additionally, FTC participants were more likely to attend college full time.”

More FTC Years, Better Outcomes

The FTC program has a positive effect on students whether they enter in elementary school or high school, and the effect increases with the number of years they participate, the study found. Students who enter the FTC program in high school complete college degree programs at higher rates than public school students, the study found.

“Among students who first entered the FTC program in grades 3–7, 10 percent earned bachelor’s degrees, compared with 9 percent of non-FTC students, and 9 percent earned associate’s degrees, compared with 8 percent of non-FTC students,” the authors write.

The effects are greater for students who enter the program during high school. “Of students who first entered the FTC program in grades 8-10, 12 percent earned a bachelor’s degree, compared with 10 percent of non-FTC students,” the authors write.

The beneficial effects increase with the number of years a student participates in the program, the study found.

“The estimated impact on degree attainment tends to increase with the number of years of FTC participation,” the authors write. “For example, students who entered FTC in high school and remained in the program for at least three years were about 5 percentage points more likely to earn bachelor’s degrees, a 50 percent increase.”

Benefits for Government Schools

The program also helps the students who remain in government schools, says Wilkerson.

“Nonparticipating students benefit, too,” said Wilkerson. “A 2010 study by Northwestern University researchers found competitive pressure public schools faced following FTC led to ‘general improvements’ in their performance.”

Parental Satisfaction Is High

Parents are extraordinarily happy with the program, says Wilkerson.

“A recent EdChoice survey found about 93 percent of scholarship parents are satisfied with the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, including 89 percent who said they are completely satisfied,” said Wilkerson.

The high satisfaction rate results from parents being able to choose schools that meet their children’s particular needs, says Tim Benson, a policy analyst at The Heartland Institute.

"The satisfaction parents show with FTC is not surprising,” said Tim Benson. “TCS programs, and other school choice programs, offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances.

“Additionally, these programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices," Benson said.

Similar Succsss for McKay

Florida has a second school choice program, The McKay Scholarship for Students with Disabilities Program (McKay), a state-funded scholarship voucher program that gives children with disabilities access to high-quality education. The McKay program served 31,000 children during the 2017-2018 school year. The McKay scholarship program has positive effects on outcomes for special needs students, says Wilkerson.

“Similar positive outcomes followed the implementation of the McKay Scholarship, the nation’s first school voucher program for students with special needs,” said Wilkerson.

Like the TCS program, McKay has benefited students who remain in the public schools, says Wilkerson.

“Manhattan Institute researchers evaluated the impact of the McKay program on the academic performance of both participating and nonparticipating disabled students,” said Wilkerson. “Researchers found that nonparticipating students with mild disabilities achieved significantly higher test scores in math and reading. They concluded that the increase in school choice forced public schools to provide a better education for the disabled kids who remained enrolled in their local district school.”

Bill Eastland (eastland@reagan.com) writes from Arlington, Texas.

Internet Info:

Matthew Chingos, Tomas Monarrez, and Daniel Kuehn, “The Effects of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program on College Enrollment and Graduation,” Center on Education Data and Policy, Urban Institute, February 2019: https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/urban-institute-the-effects-of-the-florida-tax-credit-scholarship-program-on-college-enrollment-and-graduation