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.)

Rob Roper is the president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/CCV

4 thoughts on “Study: School choice increases college success for low income students

  1. Re: “We have a tuitioning system in much of Vermont that allows every student, most importantly low income students, to attend independent schools.”

    Actually, Rob, Vermont’s School Choice Tuitioning program only allows secondary school students (grades 7 thru 12) to attend independent schools while their districts concurrently maintain a public high school, and only then when the high school board approves each individual request.
    16 V.S.A. § 822 School district to maintain public high schools or pay tuition

    For Elementary schools (grades PK thru 6), the only circumstance under which students may attend an independent school with a voucher occurs when the school district does not maintain a public elementary school in its district.
    16 V.S.A. § 821 School district to maintain public elementary schools or pay tuition

    In fact, in some Vermont districts, like North Bennington, the electorate chose to close its elementary school and re-open it as an independent school in order to keep its local school’s operation under local control.

    “According to Mill Moore, the executive director of the Vermont Independent Schools Association, a number of other towns, including Killington and Burke, have been considering making the same move from public to independent.”

    Of course, it should also be noted that the Burlington School District, with special permission by the State Board of Education and the Vermont legislature, provides for two School Choice ‘Magnet’ elementary schools, The Sustainability Academy and the Integrated Arts Academy, revitalized from the H.O. Wheeler and Lawrence Barnes and Old North End’s two elementary schools, that were facing declining enrollments and low test scores.

    These School Choice Magnet schools now have waiting lists and they serve a much larger proportion of low income and minority students than other Burlington schools.

    And never mind the fact that Vermont’s Agency of Education and the State Board of Education don’t consider the Florida success stories in their deliberations. We never hear about the School Choice successes right here in Vermont either. I wonder why?

    Thank you for bringing these new School Choice successes to our attention. One day, Vermont voters will figure out that School Choice should be available to everyone.

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