(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)
Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program is the largest in the country, serving more than 100,000 students. Those students tend to be among the most disadvantaged–nearly 70 percent are black or Hispanic and their average household income is only about $25,000.
New research from the Urban Institute finds that participating in the program boosts college enrollment:
Participation in the FTC program increased college enrollment rates by 6 percentage points, or about 15 percent, for students who participated in the FTC program at some point during their education. Of students who entered FTC in elementary or middle school, 45 percent enrolled in college, compared with 39 percent of their non-FTC counterparts. For students who entered FTC during high school, college enrollment rates were 48 percent for FTC students and 42 percent for non-FTC students.
Of course, opponents of choice are straining mighty hard to dismiss these findings.
Samuel Abrams, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, criticized the study’s methodology as flawed, saying that students who had the energy and motivation to get accepted and remain at private schools may already have an edge compared to their peers in public schools. Abrams said the American education system must be improved by addressing income inequality, accessible childcare and health care and teacher pay in public schools and not by putting more students in private schools.
“This is a solution for some kids, but it can hurt other kids because it concentrates underperformers in their default neighborhood public school,” Abrams said.
Actually, every claim Abrams made is flatly contradicted by previous research.
False Claim #1: Scholarship Students Were More Advantaged
Annual studies by Dr. David Figlio and later by researchers at Florida State University found that participating students were more disadvantaged before entering the program. The most recent study found:
[C]ompared to eligible non-participant students, new FTC students had poorer test performance both in ELA and math before entering the FTC program.
Contrary to Abrams, the scholarship students did not “have an edge compared to their peers in public schools” — they were behind those peers.
False Claim #2: Scholarships Concentrate Poor Performers in District Schools
As noted above, rather than “concentrate underperformers in their default neighborhood public school,” the program gave the most disadvantaged students the opportunity to attend new schools where they caught up to their peers academically (indeed, the FSU research shows that they were competitive with the national average, outperforming their low-income peers), and then were more likely to go to college.
False Claim #3: Scholarships Hurt Nonparticipants
Abrams claimed that the supposed concentration of underperformers in district schools would then hurt those students, presumably via peer effects (as he alluded on Twitter). However, not only was there no such concentration of underperformers, an earlier study by Dr. Figlio and Dr. Cassandra Hart found in that competition from the choice program improved the performance of district school students. Far from hurting them, as Abrams claims, the research shows that increased choice and competition helped everyone.
And on top of it all, the tax-credit scholarship program achieves all this while saving taxpayers money.
That’s a win-win-win situation if there ever was one.
[Note: This blog post was edited slightly for clarity.]