Tampa Tribune Beats the Rush

Greetings from Tampa

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

The editors of the Tampa Tribune have decided not to join the misinformed rush to judgment on Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program:

It’s too early to accurately gauge the students’ academic progress, as the University of Florida economics professor who oversaw the report emphasized. It measured only first-year test gains. Researcher David Figlio was handicapped by incomplete data for a baseline.

I’m shocked to see that in print. A newspaper actually checked the facts!

I do have to quibble with the editorial’s assertion that the Figlio study shows students who select into the program are among the most “academically challenged.” We don’t, in fact, know that. We know that they are more likely to come from schools that are among the most academically challenged. But school characteristics and individual student characteristics can vary considerably.

This matters because choice opponents have relied upon unsupported assertions about selection bias to wave away the consistent empirical research consensus showing that school choice works. In fact, the Figlio study doesn’t allow us to address this question, as the study itself explicitly says. Other research that does examine this question has not turned up any serious evidence that vouchers either “cream” (selecting high performers) or “dredge” (selecting low performers).

But the editors are back on solid ground when it comes to finances:

The program is a good deal for taxpayers.

Attending public school costs more. When local, state and federal costs, plus capital costs, are factored in, the average cost per student in public school is $12,000.

In the voucher program, the maximum scholarship is $3,950, about 57 percent of the roughly $7,000 the state pays per public school student.

And a scholarship parent pays on average $1,000 a year for their child to attend the private school. The program requires the parents and child to be motivated.

By taking challenging students from poor-performing schools, the Tax Credit Scholarships are easing the burden on the public school system, not diverting resources.

Kudos to the Tribune for checking the facts rather than rushing to judgment!

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