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Can Vouchers Improve Your Child's School? (page 2)

Can Vouchers Improve Your Child

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Updated on Oct 5, 2010

What does the research show?

Long a controversial topic, misconceptions about school vouchers are as common as opinions on their effectiveness. One of the reasons for this, Dr. John Merrifield, professor of economics at the University of Texas at San Antonio, argues, is that prior studies only went so far. Past voucher programs in places like Cleveland and Milwaukee were not all-encompassing enough to determine whether or not competition could drive better school systems.

The Cleveland and Milwaukee programs yielded similar results—and similarly fierce opposition. Each showed modest but compounding gains in test scores and increased satisfaction of voucher recipient families, but questions about data gaps, constitutionality and funding overshadowed the successes of both programs. “Those programs [were] all too small and restrictive in other ways to provide such a test,” Merrifield says. So Merrifield and Dr. Nathan Gray, assistant professor of business and public policy at Young Harris College, looked into a broader, 10-year voucher program in San Antonio’s Edgewood Independent School District—and their conclusions were promising.

Two areas in which the program seemed especially beneficial were academic performance and property valuation. Edgewood saw modest gains in standardized test performance and a considerable increase in its graduation rate, both of which can be attributed to the voucher program. Also encouraging was a near-100% college attendance rate for voucher-using students. Property values went up as a result of the program and with them, property taxes. This translated into more money for the district as a whole, and even Edgewood’s non-voucher students felt the economic benefits of the voucher system. Family buy-in was generally enthusiastic, and when questioned about the impact the vouchers had on their children, all of the respondents said that the program “positively impacted the development of their voucher using-children a lot (emphasis added).”

Many are hesitant to see it as an indication of universal success for voucher programs, but to Merrifield and Gray, the Edgewood study has “significantly increased our understanding.” While the new analysis may not have alleviated much of the controversy over school vouchers, broader studies like this no doubt set an optimistic standard for future investigation.

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