Study: School Choice Increases College Success for Low Income Students

By Rob Roper

A recent examination of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program by Dr. Matt Chingos of the Urban Institute concluded that giving low income students access to vouchers that allow them to attend private schools increases the likelihood that they will attend a public college* and graduate.

*(Note: the study only examined enrollment at public colleges in Florida, and did not look at enrollment at out-of-state, private nonprofit, and for-profit colleges.)

The Florida program allows an income tax credit to corporations that contribute money to nonprofit Scholarship-Funding Organizations (SFOs), which in turn award scholarships to students from low-income families, those eligible for free or reduced lunch or from households making less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

The study concludes: “Participation in the FTC program increases college enrollment rates by 6 percentage points, or about 15 percent. Almost all of this effect occurs in community colleges.”

However, examination of a sub-group within the overall study notes, “…but for students who entered FTC in elementary or middle school, there is a positive impact on four-year college enrollment of 0.9 percentage points (15 percent) after three years of participation and 1.5 percentage points (25 percent) after four or more years.” In other words the longer these low-income students had access to private school options, the more profound and positive the impact was on their college participation.

Vermont’s state college system should take notice. We have a tuitioning system in much of Vermont that allows every student, most importantly low income students, to attend independent schools. The State Board of Education and some legislators are hell-bent on curtailing or eliminating the scope of the program, its effectiveness, or both. This could, if the Urban Institute study is correct, negatively impact future enrolment in state colleges, which are already facing enrolment challenges.

Taxpayers should also take note. The Florida Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability estimated that the program saved Florida taxpayers $36.2 million in 2008–09, or about $1,700 per scholarship.

Rather than scheming to eliminate Vermont’s tuitioning system, the legislature ought to be working to expand it to all Vermont children. Perhaps folks within the state college system will see the benefit of pushing this policy direction in the future.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mark Shepard October 15, 2017 at 1:35 pm

Rob,

Virginia has begun down this path and there are incredible stories here also, but room for even more if the program grows toward the Florida model. One thing to note is the voucher is not a government voucher from actual tax dollars, like you might think when reading the term voucher. So the program is much more diverse because the money does not come from a single source, which in tern can direct all aspects of the educational options. Instead the money goes to funds that are privately managed and vouchered from those organizations. So it puts parents much more in charge of determining the worldview from which their children are being taught. And that makes all the difference because over many decades the public schools have been systematically gutted of teaching any rationale that could provide a foundation of our system of self-government and individual liberty. Private education in and of itself is not enough. There must be options for being educated under a worldview that can reinforce what is needed for sustaining self-government and creates a viable foundation for individual liberty … the individual has to have value, otherwise the collectivists view is superior and wins.

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