Selection in Means-tested School Voucher Programs
Cassandra M.D. Hart (Affiliate in Education)
School voucher programs have become increasingly widespread in recent years. These programs aim to expand choice for families: Proponents of voucher programs often argue that they will help the most disadvantaged children, allowing them the opportunity to exit unsafe and underperforming schools.
While a healthy body of research has examined the individual characteristics of voucher users, there has been far less detailed work on the contextual characteristics of students’ public and private school options that predict whether students use vouchers. Research Affiliate Cassandra Heart provides a deep descriptive look at the characteristics of students’ own public schools, and the characteristics of both public and private school markets, that predict student participation in the means-tested Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program.
This study examines public school and public and private school market characteristics associated with participation among elementary school students in a means-tested school voucher program in Florida. Participants are more likely than eligible non-participants to come from disadvantaged public schools on a number of dimensions. Participants’ public schools tend to have lower aggregate student performance on standardized tests, and they have higher rates of both violent and non-violent disciplinary incidents and out-of-school suspensions. Moreover, participants’ schools receive less positive ratings on various measures from school principals and teachers. Participants face more convenient and varied private school options than do eligible non-participants; however, the private schools options proximate to participants received lower parent ratings of quality on a publicly available website of school reviews than did private schools near non-participants. Participants face less competitive public school markets; they have less access to open enrollment and charter school options.