Competition improves public schools

Threatened with losing students to private schools, Florida public schools improved, concludes a Northwestern study by David Figlio and Cassandra Hart.

Starting in 2002, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program (FTC) has provided funding to help low-income parents pay for private school.  Corporations donate money to fund the scholarships in exchange for a tax credit.

The scholarship is quite generous; it covers approximately 90 percent of tuition and fees at a typical religious elementary school in Florida and two-thirds of tuition and fees at a typical religious high school. As a result, the program greatly increased the accessibility of private schools to low-income families. In the first year, some 15,585 scholarships were awarded, increasing the number of low-income students attending private schools by more than 50 percent. For the 2009–10 school year, the FTC program awarded scholarships to 28,927 students.

Public schools located near private schools increased reading and math scores more than public schools that had little competition.

For every 1.1 miles closer to the nearest private school, public school math and reading performance increases by 1.5 percent of a standard deviation in the first year following the announcement of the scholarship program. Likewise, having 12 additional private schools nearby boosts public school test scores by almost 3 percent of a standard deviation. The presence of two additional types of private schools nearby raises test scores by about 2 percent of a standard deviation. Finally, an increase of one standard deviation in the concentration of private schools nearby is associated with an increase of about 1 percent of a standard deviation in test scores.

Test scores rose more for elementary and middle schools than for high schools, perhaps because the scholarship made K-8 private schools affordable but didn’t cover as much of the tuition at private high schools.

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  1. What better way to simultaneously relieve state budget shortfalls, reduce public school class size, and give students and their parents freedom of choice.

  2. Of course I’m referring to the Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which is just a modified voucher system.

  3. Hummmm …

    Did the scores of the private schools drop at the same time as the public school rose? If the public school scores rose, was it because the parents of weaker kids took the money and ran? Was it because Florida is investing heavily in on-line learning and told certain kids that their behavior was unacceptable IN school so they had to take the same courses online?

    I find the “1.5 percent of SD per mile” statistic interesting but pretty meaningless. That’s not a standard deviation, it’s one-one hundredth of a standard deviation. That’s the equivalent of SAT scores rising 1 point.

    The quote also says that this happens only in the first year following the announcement. So the average SAT scores went up 1 pt.


    Now look at the timeline. The idea that the mere announcement of a private school makes a difference indicates that it’s got nothing to do with the education provided since it takes some time for a kid’s education. You can’t change the education of a particular kid in the months following an announcement. You can only spend time test-prepping and cramming.

    Statistically insignificant.

    I’d be looking for information on who paid for this study and who has the most to gain by falsely trumpeting miniscule gains and falsely attributing them to the glorious private schools.