Hot Off the Press — New Report on ESAs

September 27, 2012

Our very own Matt Ladner has a new report out with the Friedman Foundation on Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).  Here’s the summary:

Education savings accounts are the way of the future. Under such accounts—managed by parents with state supervision to ensure accountability—parents can use their children’s education funding to choose among public and private schools, online education programs, certified private tutors, community colleges, and even universities. Education savings accounts bring Milton Friedman’s original school voucher idea into the 21st century.

Arizona lawmakers were the first to create such a program, called Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs). Through that program, the state of Arizona deposits 90 percent of the funds for a participating child into an account, which can cover multiple educational services through use-restricted debit cards. Parents can choose to use all of their funds on a single method—like private school tuition—or they can employ a customized strategy using multiple methods (e.g., online programs and community college classes). Critically, parents can save some of the money for future higher education expenses through a 529 college savings program. That feature creates an incentive for parents to judge all K-12 service providers not only on quality but also on cost.

A fully realized system of ESAs would create powerful incentives for innovation in schooling practices seeking better outcomes for lower costs. Also, the broader use of funds may help to immunize choice programs against court challenges in some states. Policymakers must fashion their system of accounts to provide reasonable state oversight, fraud prevention, academic transparency, and equity.

If Milton Friedman were alive today, he likely would agree that education savings accounts represent a critical refinement of his school voucher concept. Existing voucher programs create healthy competition between public and private schools, but ESAs can create a much deeper level of systemic improvement. ESAs would allow parents to build a customized education to match the individual needs of every child, thus transforming education for the better.

School Choice and the Greenfield School Revolution

June 5, 2012

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Today, the Friedman Foundation is releasing a study I did with James Woodworth: The Greenfield School Revolution and School Choice. We know from previous research that vouchers (and equivalent programs like tax credits and ESAs) consistently deliver better academic performance, but the size of the impact is not revolutionary. Meanwhile, the whole world is watching as charter school operators (Carpe Diem, Rocketship, Yes Prep, etc.) reinvent the school from the ground up.

It’s ironic that these schools are charters, not voucher schools. A properly designed (i.e. universal) choice program would do a better job than charters of supporting these highly ambitious “greenfield” school models. But existing choice programs are not properly designed, so our impression was that they’re excluding these educational entrepreneurs, instead simply transferring students from one existing set of schools (public) to another (private).

We wanted to test our theory and make sure it was true, not just an accident of publicity or media bias, that the reinvention of the school wasn’t being supported by existing choice programs. We combed through twenty years’ worth of federal data (CCD and PSS) to see if we could find any evidence of disruption in the structure of the private school sector in places that had school choice programs.

We found that while existing school choice programs may be delivering moderately better academic outcomes, they aren’t disrupting the private school sector the way they need to be. In one or two places we found visible impacts, but nothing like a reinvention of schooling. The only impact of any considerable size is the dramatic change in racial composition in the private school population of Milwaukee.

In addition to the empirical findings, the study outlines 1) why radical “greenfield” school models are essential to drive the kind of education reform we need, and 2) why universal school choice would do a better job than charter schools of sustaining it.

Special thanks to Rick Hess, from whom we borrow the term “greenfield,” and Jay Greene for giving us their comments and insights as we developed this study!

Enlow the Barbarian Teams with Reason to Talk Milton Friedman

March 7, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

The Kung Fu Panda of the School Choice Movement talks Friedman, 2011 and more in this Reason TV video:

Enlow: Go for the Whole Package

September 14, 2009

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Robert Enlow brings it in today’s Indianapolis Star. Money quote:

Bush argued for a comprehensive package of reforms, all of which were critical to Florida’s success. In his remarks to the Education Roundtable, clear accountability (grading schools), good incentives (merit pay) and real consequences (school choice) were inextricably linked. Without each component working together, success would not have been possible, a fact evidenced by a recent study showing that improvement among failing public schools went from double digits to zero after the Florida Supreme Court removed the school voucher option.

Moreover, it was critical to assign each school a letter grade. Without that clear and easy-to-understand letter grade, there simply would not have been the same level of academic improvement among schools.

As someone who fought alongside Gov. Bush in 1999 as he passed his reform package, I can state with confidence that both letter grades and parental school choice were essential to eventual success of the Florida accountability plan. The Star should consider supporting the whole package of common-sense reforms, not just some of the pieces.

New Study on Florida Tax Credit Scholarships

August 6, 2009

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.

Evidence Shows Vouchers Are a Win-Win Solution

February 23, 2009


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

On Friday, the Friedman Foundation released my new report, “A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on How Vouchers Affect Public Schools.” It goes over all the available empirical evidence on . . . well, on how vouchers affect public schools.

Here’s the supercool graphic:


Worth a thousand words, isn’t it? I mean, at what point are we allowed to say that people are either lying, or have been hoodwinked by other people’s lies, when they say that the research doesn’t support a positive impact from vouchers on public schools?

There’s always room for more research. What would we all do with our time if there weren’t? But on the question of what the research we now have says, the verdict is not in dispute.

Here’s the executive summary of the report:

This report collects the results of all available empirical studies on how vouchers affect academic achievement in public schools. Contrary to the widespread claim that vouchers hurt public schools, it finds that the empirical evidence consistently supports the conclusion that vouchers improve public schools. No empirical study has ever found that vouchers had a negative impact on public schools.

There are a variety of explanations for why vouchers might improve public schools, the most important being that competition from vouchers introduces healthy incentives for public schools to improve.

The report also considers several alternative explanations, besides the vouchers themselves, that might explain why public schools improve where vouchers are offered to their students. It concludes that none of these alternatives is consistent with the available evidence. Where these claims have been directly tested, the evidence has not borne them out. The only consistent explanation that accounts for all the data is that vouchers improve public schools.

Key findings include:

  • A total of 17 empirical studies have examined how vouchers affect academic achievement in public schools. Of these studies, 16 find that vouchers improved public schools and one finds no visible impact. No empirical studies find that vouchers harm public schools.
  • Vouchers can have a significant positive impact on public schools without necessarily producing visible changes in the overall performance of a large city’s schools. The overall performance of a large school system is subject to countless different influences, and only careful study using sound scientific methods can isolate the impact of vouchers from all other factors so it can be accurately measured. Thus, the absence of dramatic “miracle” results in cities with voucher programs has no bearing on the question of whether vouchers have improved public schools; only scientific analysis can answer that question.
  • Every empirical study ever conducted in Milwaukee, Florida, Ohio, Texas, Maine and Vermont finds that voucher programs in those places improved public schools.
  • The single study conducted in Washington D.C. is the only study that found no visible impact from vouchers. This is not surprising, since the D.C. voucher program is the only one designed to shield public schools from the impact of competition. Thus, the D.C. study does not detract from the research consensus in favor of a positive effect from voucher competition.
  • Alternative explanations such as “stigma effect” and “regression to the mean” do not account for the positive effects identified in these studies. When these alternative explanations have been evaluated empirically, the evidence has not supported them.

School Voucher Mythbusters

December 17, 2008


(Guest post by Greg Forster)

A while back, I posted this to help people find comprehensive lists of the research on various subjects related to school vouchers. It’s a list of lists – in case you’re looking for a list of all the available research on whether vouchers improve education for the kids who use them, or whether they improve public schools, and so forth. Some of the lists are more scholarly and contain a lot of technical information, while some are presented in a more easily accessible format.

Well, here’s a big update on the list-of-lists front: the Friedman Foundation has released a set of “myth buster” guides to the research on the six most common school choice myths. For each myth they’ve provided a brief, handy reference sheet and a slightly longer, more detailed guide to the research. Even the detailed version of each myth buster is still less technical than the other lists on my “meta-list” page, compiled by Jay and other scholars, but it does go over the most important technical issues (how do we distinguish the impact of vouchers from the impact of other factors like family influence?) and provides the references you’ll need to dig further if you wish.


Myth: Vouchers hurt public schools and take the best and brightest.

Research: Short version, detailed version.


Myth: Private schools aren’t really better than public schools.

Research: Short version, detailed version.


Myth: Vouchers will lead to increased segregation.

Research: Short version, detailed version.


Myth: Private schools are hostile to tolerance and democratic values.

Research: Short version, detailed version.


Myth: Vouchers are costly and drain money from public schools.

Research: Short version, detailed version.


Myth: Private schools exclude difficult students.

Research: Short version, detailed version.


Take note that these are true comprehensive lists, including all high-quality studies on each of these questions. I’ve noticed that it’s always voucher supporters who are willing to discuss all the evidence, while voucher opponents typically cherry-pick the evidence, mischaracterize the evidence they’ve cherry-picked, and then falsely accuse voucher supporters of cherry-picking evidence.

So I would say Jay’s theory about why school vouchers keep winning against impossible odds is well supported by the empirical evidence – although in this case I haven’t compiled a comprehensive list.

What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted!
Thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just,
And he but naked, though lock’d up in steel
Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted.

Henry VI, Part II, Act 3, Scene 2

State Regulation of Private Schools: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

April 30, 2008

(Guest post by Greg Forster)


Today, the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice releases a report that evaluates how each of the 50 states regulates private schools. While all states regulate things like health and safety, most states go further and impose unreasonable and unnecessary burdens on private schools. This creates barriers to entry, hindering competition and thereby reducing the quality of both public and private schools; it also limits the freedom of parents to choose how their children will be educated. Friedman Foundation Senior Fellow Christopher Hammons graded each state based on how good a job it does of regulating private schools. Scroll down to see the grades.  


Accompanying the report, we have compiled lists of all the laws and regulations governing private schools in each of the 50 states. The lists are now available on our website.  


Our goal is to educate the public on two fronts. First, we often hear private schools described as “unregulated” by forces hostile to school choice. Private schools are in fact regulated and are accountable to the public for following a large body of laws and regulations. Second, there is wide variation from state to state in the quality of private school regulation. We hope to make the public aware of these disparities so that states with poor regulatory systems will themselves be accountable to the public.  


To help ensure the accuracy of our list of private school laws and regulations in each state, we contacted each of the 50 state departments of education, asking them to review our lists and let us know if we had anything missing or incorrect. Each state has an extremely large body of laws and regulations, so any effort to locate all the laws and regulations on a particular topic is very difficult, and we wanted to do everything possible to make sure we didn’t miss anything. As you will see below, some states were more helpful than others.

The Good

The Good #1: About one third of the states (18 ) earned a grade in the A or B range. Florida and New Jersey were tied for having the nation’s best regulatory systems for private schools, followed closely by Connecticut and Delaware.  


The Good #2: I will admit that I expected most of our e-mails to the state departments of education would be ignored. As it turned out, most of the states – 29 of them – not only got back to us but went over our lists and either said they were OK as is or offered corrections. In fact, publication of the report was delayed so that we would have time to process all the constructive input we were getting from state departments of education. So let me pour myself a big, delicious bowl of crow and apologize to the departments of education in Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. I’m sorry I doubted you, and we greatly appreciate your help.  


In addition, Arkansas and Arizona deserve recognition for getting back to us and letting us know that they were unable to help us with our request.

The Bad 

The Bad #1: Almost half the states (22) receive D or F grades for the unnecessary burdens imposed on private schools by their laws and regulations. North Dakota ranked the worst in the nation by a large margin, followed by South Dakota, Alabama, Maryland, New York and Tennessee.  


The Bad #2: The departments of education in 17 states did not respond to our attempts to contact them. California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri Mississippi, [oops – apologies to the DOE of Missouri and the schoolchildren of Mississippi] Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Utah, please check whether you still have a department of education.  


Mysteriously, Alaska responded to our initial inquiry, but then didn’t respond to our follow-up communications. 

The Ugly 

Alabama’s department of education deserves special recognition for its efforts to help us. Our request was considered so important that it was ultimately handled by no less than the department’s general counsel.  


The department’s first response was to ask where we had gotten our list of Alabama’s private school laws and regulations, and how we were planning to publish it.  


I did not ask why they wanted to know, or whom they were planning to pass the information on to once I told them. Instead, I replied that we had compiled our list from the state’s publicly available laws and regulations, and that we were going to post the list on our website and publish a report looking at the laws and regulations in all 50 states.  


Their response to that was: “After continued review by appropriate persons and because of the depth of information that you have forwarded to us, it has been determined that this request needs to be reviewed by our SDE Legal Department.” They also asked for more time, which we were happy to give them, as we did for every department that asked for it.  


The next and final communication we received was this, which I reprint in its entirety:

I am the General Counsel for the State Department of Education. I have been asked by the Deputy Superintendent of Education, Dr. Eddie Johnson, to review and respond to your request. There are numerous errors contained in the four page document titled ALABAMA. I submit that a further review of our laws and regulations might be helpful. You can access our statutes at The Administrative Code for the Alabama Department of Education can be found at our website, Thank you for your interest in Alabama.


The message was signed “Larry Craven.” Really.  


I offer no speculation as to why Mr. Craven would tell us that our document contained numerous errors, but decline to specify any of them.  


If at any time he or any other party will be so kind as to specify anything in our list of laws and regulations for Alabama or any other state that’s wrong or missing, we will gladly make any necessary corrections. In a project of this size, combing through countless thousands of laws and regulations to find the ones relevant to private schools, there would be no shame in having missed some. We make a point of saying so both in the report itself and in a disclaimer that appears on each of the 50 state lists we compiled and put on our website.  


That said, this also should be said: we wouldn’t have to comb through countless thousands of laws and regulations, a process inherently subject to this kind of difficulty, if the 50 state departments of education provided this information to the public in an easily accessible format. (Some do, but most don’t.) Our only goal here is to get public-domain information actually delivered to the public. We wish we could say that goal was shared by everyone in charge of running the nation’s education system. 

Grades for State Laws and Regulations Governing Private Schools

Alabama F
Alaska B
Arizona A-
Arkansas A-
California B
Colorado B
Connecticut A
Delaware A
Florida A
Georgia A-
Hawaii C+
Idaho C+
Illinois C+
Indiana D-
Iowa D
Kansas F
Kentucky B
Louisiana D
Maine D+
Maryland F
Massachusetts C-
Michigan C-
Minnesota B+
Mississippi F
Missouri A-
Montana F
Nebraska F
Nevada F
New Hampshire C+
New Jersey A
New Mexico C+
New York F
North Carolina D
North Dakota F
Ohio C-
Oklahoma B
Oregon C+
Pennsylvania D
Rhode Island D
South Carolina F
South Dakota F
Tennessee F
Texas B-
Utah A-
Vermont D
Virginia B
Washington F
West Virginia C-
Wisconsin A-
Wyoming F

 Edited for typos

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