Advocates debate study showing private school vouchers help public schools too

School choice group lauds academic findings; opponents criticize study’s methodology; lawsuit ongoing

A new study from Ohio State University includes findings that EdChoice private school voucher use has benefitted the public school districts where the students in question live.

School choice advocates connected with the study said it’s proof that school competition works, while some advocates of public school districts questioned the study’s methodology.

The study, from Ohio State’s Stéphane Lavertu and John J. Gregg, looked at the effects of EdChoice vouchers, which allow families in specific school districts or under certain income levels to use state funds to send their children to a private school. Lavertu is an Ohio State University public policy professor and Gregg is a graduate student focusing on education public policy.

The study found that EdChoice vouchers led on average to 10-15% lower student enrollment in public schools than there would have been without EdChoice. But racial and ethnic segregation declined, even as total district spending remained the same and district achievement improved, the study said.

On academics, the study found that the average district exposed to performance-based EdChoice saw their student achievement, as measured by performance index on state tests, go from the second percentile statewide to the sixth percentile.

The findings were stronger with the EdChoice program that targets low-performing school districts. Results from the income-based EdChoice voucher program were inconclusive.

Lavertu thanked The Fordham Institute, a pro-school choice research institute, “for making this project possible.” Fordham wrote the forward on the study and published it on their website, saying the findings are a win for EdChoice, plus many types of schools.

“District students are not left as ‘collateral damage’ when parents have more education options and decide to pursue them,” wrote Chad Aldis, Fordham’s vice president for Ohio policy, and Aaron Churchill, Ohio research director, in the foreword to the OSU study. “Quite the contrary: the increased competition seems to stir traditional public schools to undertake actions that benefit district students.”

A lawsuit currently pending in Ohio is challenging the constitutionality of the EdChoice voucher program. The study seems to be at least partly in response to the lawsuit, as Churchill and Aldis reference it in their foreword.

William Phillis of the Ohio Coalition for Equity & Adequacy of School Funding, which is part of the lawsuit against EdChoice, said the study has not yet been peer reviewed. He said Fordham is biased In favor of private and charter school funding. Phillis is part of the group who originally sued the state over the way Ohio funds schools on property taxes.

Stephen Dyer of Vouchers Hurt Ohio, the group suing the state against EdChoice, criticized the look at the minority population using vouchers.

Most of the kids using vouchers come from big-city districts, Dyer said, meaning they’re less likely to be white. He said instead of comparing the EdChoice voucher population to the state at large, it should be compared to the school district the students are coming from. Dyer added the study shows that Ohio relies heavily on property taxes, which has previously been ruled unconstitutional.

Overall, EdChoice is a bad policy, Dyer argued.

“If you took what is going on in Ohio and took it to some impartial policy person in Norway or something, who had never heard of this, they would say, why are you giving more money to this?” Dyer said.

This is not the first research on the impact of Ohio’s EdChoice voucher system. A 2016 study from Northwestern University found that Ohio students who attended private schools via vouchers performed worse on state tests than comparable students who remained in struggling public schools.

Like the OSU research, that study said the EdChoice program caused slight improvement in the struggling public schools’ test performance due to increased competition. But the negative impact on the test scores of students who used the vouchers was found to be much sharper.

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