There’s been much talk about how competition benefits the public schools but not much research on the subject – until now.
Education Next features an interesting study by Cassandra Hart and David Figlio, both of Northwestern University. The researchers analyzed data from the Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship program to determine the effect of scholarship-induced private school competition on public schools performance. Specifically, did student test scores show greater improvement in areas where students had more private school options than scores for students attending schools with fewer private school options? The results are illuminating:
Our results indicate that the increased competitive pressure public schools faced following the introduction of Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program led to general improvements in their performance. Both expanded access to private school options and greater variety of options that students have in terms of the religious (or secular) affiliations of private schools are positively associated with public-school students’ test scores following the introduction of the FTC program. The gains occur immediately, before any students leave the public schools with a scholarship, implying that competitive threats are responsible for at least some of the estimated effects. And the gains appear to be much more pronounced in the schools most at risk to lose students (elementary and middle schools, where the cost of private school attendance with a scholarship is much lower) and in the schools that are in the margin of Title I funding.
True, this is only one study, but the evidence continues to accumulate. Milwaukee public school teachers offer some of the strongest statements in support of that city’s school choice program. Why? They believe competition has made their schools better. While the evidence is anecdotal, it should not be discounted.
Numerous bills have been introduced in the past legislative sessions to provide some form of education tax credit. A number have even gained bi-partisan support. None however has garnered enough votes to pass either house. Lawmakers would do well to look seriously at this option as a way to not only expand educational freedom but also improve the public schools.