New Study on Florida Tax Credit Scholarships

FL survey table

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Today the Friedman Foundation releases a new study I co-authored with Christian D’Andrea on the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. You may recall that program as the subject of last month’s rush to judgment.

At the top of this post you can see what the parents participating in the program report about the services they previously received in public schools, and the services they are now receiving in the school choice program. The study conducted a survey of over 800 families randomly selected from the entire population participating in the program, excluding only those who had no prior public school experience (because their children entered the program in kindergarten).

The numbers tell the story. Public schools didn’t deliver for these kids, and school choice does – in spades.

Obviously this doesn’t answer all questions about the program. Indeed, as the first empirical study ever completed on a tax-credit scholarship program (that is, the first to empirically measure the outcomes of such a program measured against a relevant standard of comparison), it hardly could. We all look forward to the completion of the official evaluation when it’s ready. Until then, however, we have to take the information we have. And, if I do say so, I think this is some pretty important information.

Here’s the executive summary:

This study examines the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program, one of the nation’s largest school choice programs. It is the first ever completed empirical evaluation of a tax-credit scholarship program, a type of program that creates school choice through the tax code. Earlier reports, including a recent one on the Florida program, have not drawn comparisons between the educational results of public schools and tax-credit scholarships; this study is therefore the first step in evaluating the performance of this type of school choice.

The Florida program provides a tax credit on corporate income taxes for donations to scholarship-funding organizations, which use the funding to provide K-12 private school scholarships to low-income students. Over 23,000 Florida students are attending private schools this year using these scholarships. Similar programs exist in Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

Studying a tax-credit scholarship program using traditional empirical techniques presents a number of methodological challenges. To overcome these difficulties, the study used a telephone survey conducted by Marketing Informatics to interview 808 participating parents whose children attended public schools before entering the program. It asked them to compare the educational services they received in public and private schools.

The results provide the first ever direct comparison between the education participants received when they were in Florida public schools and the education they receive in the school choice program.

Key findings include:

• Participating parents report that they receive dramatically better educational services from their current private schools than they previously received in public schools.

• 80 percent are “very satisfied” with the academic progress their children are making in their current private schools, compared to 4 percent in their previous public schools.

• 80 percent are “very satisfied” with the individual attention their children now receive, compared to 4 percent in public schools.

• 76 percent are “very satisfied” with the teacher quality in their current schools, compared to 7 percent in public schools.

• 76 percent are “very satisfied” with their schools’ responsiveness to their needs, compared to 4 percent in public schools.

• 62 percent are “very satisfied” with the student behavior in their current schools, compared to 3 percent in public schools.

• Most participating parents were dissatisfied with their public school experiences on most measurements, and are overwhelmingly satisfied with their current private schools.

• 58 percent had been “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the academic progress their children were making in public school, compared to 4 percent in their current private schools.

• 64 percent had been “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the individual attention their children received in public schools, compared to 3 percent in their current schools.

• 44 percent had been “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with teacher quality in public schools, compared to 3 percent in their current schools.

• 59 percent had been “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with school responsiveness in public schools, compared to 3 percent in their current schools.

• 62 percent had been “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with student behavior in public schools, compared with 5 percent in their current schools.

• Asked to rate their schools on a scale from one to „„ ten, 94 percent of participants gave their current private schools at least a seven, and 54 percent gave them a ten. Only 18 percent of parents rated their public schools seven or higher, and just 2 percent rated them at the highest level.

• Of the 128 parents whose children are not likely to be in the program again next year, 81 percent said that dissatisfaction with the program played no role at all in their decision, and 100 percent – all 128 of them – said the program should continue to be available for others even though they were not likely to use it again next year themselves.

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5 Responses to New Study on Florida Tax Credit Scholarships

  1. [...] Forster writes at Jay P. Greene’s Blog:  ”Today the Friedman Foundation releases a new study I co-authored with Christian [...]

  2. Kate says:

    “The numbers tell the story. Public schools didn’t deliver for these kids, and school choice does – in spades.”

    Reading your post, I have trouble finding convincing support for this statement. Sure, the participating parents report satisfaction and that’s certainly worth noting (although I believe studies have shown that parents often are not well-informed about the quality of instruction at their child’s schools). But the “empirical research” you cite doesn’t actually measure student outcomes and it seems to me that student performance, particularly when it comes to advocating for school choice, is the only measure that ultimately matters.

    • Greg Forster says:

      Well, I very strongly disagree with your opinion that “student performance” is the only thing that matters. That strikes me as a very impoverished view of what education is about.

      But let’s leave that aside and deal with your more concrete assertions. You say “studies” have shown parents “often” are not “well-informed” about “the quality of instruction” at their child’s schools. What studies? How often? What is the standard for “well informed” and what do you mean by “quality of instruction,” and on what grounds do you think that you know better than they do what counts as quality instruction or what kind and degree of information they need to have about it before they are “well informed”?

      You also seem to suggest that measuring parental satisfaction is not “empirical research” because it doesn’t “actually measure student outcomes.” If by “actually” you mean “directly” you’re right, but the problem is that “actually” does not in fact mean “directly.” If direct measures were available, I’d use them too, although I would still think parents are the only final judge of educational quality because they know their kids and their kids’ needs, and nobody else does. Parents are, to borrow your words, “the only measure that ultimately matters” because they are the only people who ultimately know.

  3. allen says:

    From the study:

    “this study examines a different question: how do the educational services participants are receiving through the
    program compare to the services those same participants previously received in public schools?”

    It would seem to me that if you set out to survey attitudes towards the services received and then do so a complaint about a failure to gather information unrelated to the goal of your study is, at best, misinformed although the politics of public education suggest it’s more likely to be disingenuous.

    Also, if parents attitudes towards the education their child is receiving is “not well-informed” then the complaints about uninvolved parents being the source of many of the problems that beset district-based public schools comes into question. After all, if the opinions of parents are without value then how is their involvement or lack thereof supposed to be so important? What activities do ignorant but involved parents engage in? Cheer-leading?

  4. [...] aside, 2009  report on the program has found participating parents were very satisfied with the schooling their children received as a result. Remember, these are not country-club [...]

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