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Study: Indiana's voucher program has negative effect on student performance


A study released by the non-partisan Brookings Institute found that Indiana “public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools.” The authors say that the “magnitudes of the negative impacts of attending private schools were large.”


Researchers studied more than 3,000 voucher students and 500,000 public school students in Indiana. Time trend comparisons of test scores for students who initially attended public schools, received vouchers and transferred to private schools versus time trends for students who continued to attend public schools found that “a student who had entered a private school with a math score at the 50th percentile declined to the 44th percentile after one year.”


The authors surmise that public schools have improved, while private schools have fallen behind as they remain mostly exempt from accountability requirements.


The Brookings researchers urge Indiana lawmakers to step back from investing further tax dollars into the nation’s largest voucher program:


In education as in medicine, ‘first, do no harm’ is a powerful guiding principle. A case to use taxpayer funds to send children of low-income parents to private schools is based on an expectation that the outcome will be positive. These recent findings point in the other direction. More needs to be known about long-term outcomes from these recently implemented voucher programs to make the case that they are a good investment of public funds.


Only 2 percent of vouchers are now going to students living in an “F” public school district. The study’s authors point to the fact that a growing number of private school vouchers are being used by families who choose a religious education at a failing school over a higher performing public school:


And, finally, there are difficult philosophical and political questions that voters and elected officials need to mindfully address, including whether families with the personal wealth to pay tuition at a private school should have the opportunity to choose that school even if it is underperforming on traditional academic test measures whereas low-income families should be denied that right.


As ISTA previously reported, more than $8 million in vouchers were spent on D and F private schools.


Indiana’s private school voucher program cost Hoosier taxpayers a record $135 million last year, at a loss of $40 million.