Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer devotes considerable attention to the impact school vouchers have on public schools. At a time when opponents to publicly funded private learning options are lobbing rhetorical hand grenades in several states, particularly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Inquirer reporter Adrienne Lu offers this fair-minded assessment:
While studies are relatively scarce, the early opinion among researchers appears to be that vouchers have done little, if any, harm to student achievement in public schools and in some cases have spurred small improvements on standardized-exam scores in public schools.
As evidence, Lu cites Northwestern University researcher David Figlio, who recently found that the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship boosted the academic performance of the public schools faced with the threat of losing students to the program. Figlio and co-researcher Cassandra Hart had highlighted that, no matter what measure they used (the closer private schools are to a public school, the density of private schools within five-miles of a public school, etc.) the effect was generally the same:
Although these effects are relatively small, they consistently indicate a positive relationship between private school competition and student-performance in the public schools, even before any students leave for the private sector. That is, these results provide evidence that public schools responded to the increased threat of losing students to the private schools.
In an interview with the Inquirer, Figlio rightly cautioned against looking at vouchers as “the magical pill that’s going to turn the U.S. into Finland,” but he made clear that, for any state considering a voucher program, “there’s very little to be afraid of.”