Educational Vouchers: A Review of the Research


Alex Molnar


Center for Education Research, Analysis, and Innovation
School of Education
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
PO Box 413
Milwaukee WI 53201


October, 1999




Educational Vouchers: A Review of the Research
October 1999

Alex Molnar
Professor, Department of Curriculum and Instruction University ofWisconsin-Milwaukee

This document combines excerpts from tworeports: "Smaller Classes -- Not Vouchers -- Increase StudentAchievement" (Harrisburg, Pa.: Keystone Research Center, March 1998); and"Smaller Classes and Educational Vouchers: A Research Update"(Harrisburg, Pa.: Keystone Research Center, June 1999). Both documents areavailable on the website of the Center for Education Research, Analysis, andInnovation at

Table of Contents - Exercept 1
Historical Background
Educational Choice Enters the Mainstream
The Battle Over Vouchers Today
The Milwaukee Parental Choice Voucher Program
The Debate Over the Achievement Effect of the Milwaukee Voucher Program
Box 3: Public vs. Private Schools
Why Different Researchers Reach Different Conclusions
The Witte Evaluations
Box 4: Sorting through the Conflicting Voucher Results
The Greene, Peterson, and Du Evaluation
Box 5: When are Significant Results Not So Significant?
The Rouse Evaluation
Milwaukee’s Private Voucher Program -- PAVE
Box 6 - A Case Example of the Relative Cost and Performance of Public and Private Schools

The Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program (CSTP)
Vouchers, Values, and Educational Equity
Box 7: Does Money Matter? School Spending and School Outcomes


Table of Contents - Exercept 2
The Argument Over Vouchers
The Milwaukee Parental Choice Voucher Program
The Achievement Effects of the Milwaukee Voucher Program

The Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program (CSTP)
Official Evaluation Results for CSTP
Private Voucher Programs
Private School Vouchers (Con't)
Vouchers and Educational Equity

The Washington (D.C.) Scholarship Fund

TheWashington Scholarship Fund (WSF) was established in 1993 to provide vouchersto low-income students. Its funding comes from a variety of individualsincluding John Walton and Ted Forstmann and foundations such as the Lynde andHarry Bradley Foundation. In the fall of 1997, 460 WSF participants wereattending 72 private schools. Beginning with the 1998-99 school year, theprogram planned to offer vouchers worth up to $2,200 to more than 1,000students in grades K-8. No family with an income higher than 2.5 times the poverty level may participate. Familieswith incomes that fall below the poverty line are eligible for vouchers worthup to 60 percent of the cost of private school tuition.

ParentsAdvancing Choice in Education (Dayton, Ohio)

Forthe 1998-99 school year, the Parents Advancing Choice in Education (PACE)program in Dayton, Ohio, offered vouchers to 530 students previously enrolledin public schools and 250 students previously enrolled in private schools. Theprogram pays up to 60 percent of the tuition at one of 20 private schoolsparticipating in the program, up to a maximum of $1,200. The program is fundedby the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation and a consortium of Dayton communityleaders.

TheWSF and PACE programs are being evaluated by the Harvard Program on EducationPolicy and Governance, the Northern Illinois University Social Science ResearchUnit, and (for the PACE program only) the University of Dayton.27 Ineach program, a randomized design similar to that used to evaluate the New YorkSchool Choice Scholarship program is being implemented. At this point, noachievement data are available for either program.

SanAntonio Private Voucher Programs

SanAntonio has two private voucher programs, both of which are funded by the CEOAmerica Foundation. The first began in 1992 and offers a voucher worth up tohalf the cost of tuition (to a maximum of $800) to any K-8 student eligible forfree or reduced-price lunches who resides in Bexar County, Texas. Students mayattend public or private schools. Godwin, Kemerer, and Martinez compared theeffects of public school choice and private voucher programs in San Antonio.28The small number of students (85) for whom baseline (1991-92) and final-year(1995-96) test score data were available and the limited nature of the resultsmake their achievement findings of little value.

InApril 1998 the CEO America Foundation and James Leininger committed $50 millionover a period of 10 years to launch the Horizon Program. It is the firstprivate voucher program in the country to offer a voucher to every low-incomestudent within a single school district (the Edgewood Independent SchoolDistrict in San Antonio, Texas). Any K-12 student who is eligible for a free orreduced-price lunch and who resides in the district may participate. Vouchersmay pay up to 100 percent of a participating school’s tuition, to a maximum of$3,600 (grades K-8) for schools in the district and a maximum of $2,000 (gradesK-8) for schools outside the district. For grades 9-12 the program pays up to$4,000 for schools in the district and up to $3,500 for schools outside thedistrict.29

Theevaluation of the Horizon Program is being conducted by David Myers(Mathematica Policy Research), Paul Peterson (Harvard University), Jay Greene(University of Texas), and Rodolfo de la Garza (Thomas Rivera PolicyInstitute). The first report, issued in September 1999, provided preliminaryinformation about the children who attended private schools through the HorizonProgram and about their parents. 

Vouchers and Educational Equity

Thegap in funding between affluent and low-income districts in Pennsylvaniaalready exceeds that in most other states. As of 1991-92, the last year forwhich comparable data have been collected for all 50 states, Pennsylvania hadthe 11th-largest gap in state and local funding per pupil between high-income andpoor districts.30 A major concern with vouchers is that they couldfurther increase funding inequities and the stratification of students byincome, race, and social background.

Voucherscould increase inequity by diverting money from students currently served bythe public schools to students who already go to private schools. For example,rather than providing Milwaukee Public School children with choice, theexpansion of the Milwaukee voucher and charter school programs appears to bediverting money from children in the public schools and subsidizing familieswho were already sending their children to private schools. According to HenryLevin (Stanford University), the 5,902 students enrolled in either charter orvoucher schools cost the Milwaukee Public Schools $29,214,900 in revenue in1997-98. Of the 5,902 voucher and charter school students, only 1,379 hadattended the Milwaukee Public Schools the previous year.31

Levinestimated that a national voucher program that included all current private schoolstudents and that offered the full range of services provided by public schoolswould cost $33 billion annually. The costs of accommodating additional studentsin private schools, record-keeping and monitoring, and providing transportationwould add another $40 billion, bringing the total to $73 billion, about 25percent of the current cost of public education nationally.

Newevidence from Arizona corroborates the fear that a large-scale school choiceprogram may increase stratification in the schools based on income, race, andethnicity. Casey D. Cobb and Gene V. Glass found that Arizona charter schoolsare increasing racial segregation in public education. Minority students aredisproportionately enrolled in charter schools with non-college-preparatorycurricula.32 Large-scale voucher programs would share many of thecharacteristics of Arizona’s largely unregulated charter school program andmay, therefore, similarly reduce educational equity.

Thereis evidence that all school choice programs, public school choice as well asvoucher and charter school programs, increase student stratification by incomeand other family background characteristics but do not necessarily produceacademic gains.

Godwin,Kemerer, and Martinez, in their analysis of the characteristics of familiesthat chose to participate in either public or private school choice programs inSan Antonio, found significant differences between choosing and non-choosingfamilies. Choosing families had more education, higher incomes, higher employmentlevels, and fewer children, and were less likely to be on welfare, less likelyto be African-American, and more likely to be two-parent families. Choosingfamilies also had higher educational expectations and were more active in theirchildren’s education. In addition, their children had higher standardized testscores.33

A1992 Carnegie Foundation report evaluated choice programs around the countryand reached the following conclusions: (1) To the extent that choice programsbenefit children at all, they benefit the children of better educated parents.(2) Choice programs require additional money to operate. (3) Choice programshave the potential to widen the gap between rich and poor school districts. (4)School choice does not necessarily improve student achievement.34Bruce Fuller, in a 1995 review, drew conclusions similar to those of theCarnegie report.35

In areview of the research on school choice in three countries (the U.S., GreatBritain, and New Zealand), Geoff Whitty found little evidence to support thecontention that the creation of educational "markets" increases student achievement. He did, however, findthat educational "markets" make existing inequalities in theprovision of education worse.36 Martin Carnoy drew a similarconclusion based on an analysis of the effects of school privatization in Chileand other countries.37

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