Disadvantaged children let down by school voucher scheme

New research from the US National Bureau of Economic Research evaluates a prominent and rapidly expanding school voucher plan, the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), and found that participation in the scheme substantially reduced academic achievement, probably because of the quality of the schools involved.

LSP provides public funds for disadvantaged pupils at low-performing Louisiana public (state) schools, enabling them to attend a private school of their choice. Pupils can apply, and then vouchers are allocated by random lottery.

The authors found that after one year, pupils attending an LSP-eligible private school through the voucher scheme saw their maths scores reduced by 0.4 standard deviations, and the effects for reading, science, and social studies were also negative and large. The negative impacts of vouchers were consistent across income groups, geographic areas, and private school characteristics, and were larger for younger children.

Private schools must apply for eligibility to take part in the LSP scheme, and the authors found that these schools had often experienced rapid declines in enrolment before applying. They suggest that LSP may therefore attract a set of private schools that are struggling to maintain enrolment. They also found that tuition at LSP-eligible private schools was typically well below public per-pupil spending.

The authors conclude that the private schools involved in the scheme are providing lower educational quality, and suggest caution in the design of voucher systems aimed at expanding school choice for disadvantaged pupils.

Source: School Vouchers and Student Achievement: First-Year Evidence from the Louisiana Scholarship Program (2015), NBER.