School choice produces benefits not only for students who make use of the voucher to transfer to a private school, but also for students who remain in the public school system, according to a new study on the outcomes of the HORIZON Program, a privately funded scholarship program in San Antonio, Texas.
Established in the 1998-99 school year by the Children’s Educational Opportunity Foundation, HORIZON ambitiously offered every child in the predominantly poor, Hispanic Edgewood Independent School District a voucher to attend private school. In the new study, Teach for America teacher Jennifer O. Aguirre and Children First America Vice President Matthew Ladner analyze the impact of the program from three different perspectives:
- For students who transferred out of the Edgewood district, what were the academic effects?
- For students who remained in the Edgewood public schools, what were the apparent academic effects?
- For the Edgewood Independent School District, what were the systemic effects resulting from the HORIZON program?
In other studies, researchers have evaluated a voucher program’s impact by comparing students who used scholarships with those who applied for scholarships but did not receive them. Such studies show voucher students often achieve at a higher level at their new schools, with their test score gains being attributable to two components: voucher students staying near grade level, and their peers in the public schools falling further and further below grade level.
In the HORIZON program, such a comparison with a control group is not possible because all students who sought vouchers received them. However, voucher students made strong annual learning gains on Stanford 9 tests in all subjects except science. That progress, the study authors note, makes for “a stark contrast” with the generally declining scores of low-income students in public schools and suggests voucher students “make significant academic gains.”
Benefits to students who remained in district schools also were noted. The passing rate on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) exam for public school students prior to the implementation of HORIZON was 15.7 points below the state average. Two years later, the district had increased the passing rate by 20.2 percent or 12.5 points, bringing the district to within 5.4 points of the state average. Students improved throughout Texas, but they improved at a faster rate in Edgewood.
The higher rate of improvement found in Edgewood after implementation of the universal voucher program also has been identified in other communities by Manhattan Institute researchers Jay Greene and Greg Forster. Their 2002 study, “Rising to the Challenge: The Effect of School Choice on Public Schools in Milwaukee and San Antonio,” shows how voucher programs spurred improvement in the public schools in those two cities.
With regard to HORIZON’s impact on the Edgewood school district, Aguirre and Ladner found the school district received more money and teachers received higher salaries after implementation of the voucher program. Those developments counter the often-voiced criticism that vouchers deplete funds from school districts.
Former Superintendent Noe Sauceda told journalists three years ago that the HORIZON program had cost the district an estimated $5 million. “[W]ith that kind of decrease,” she warned, “we can’t attract and retain quality staff.”
But Aguirre and Ladner show that from 1997-98 to 2002-03 the Edgewood district experienced an increase in spending of more than $1,000 per pupil after implementation of HORIZON–despite a decline in enrollment from the voucher program and other factors. In addition, teacher salaries increased more than 23 percent during the same period, rising from below the state average to above the state average.
The evidence of the impact of HORIZON on Hispanic students, both participants and non-participants, is “exceedingly important to state legislatures as well as the national debate over school choice as public policy,” the study’s authors argue. The program’s positive results show the enactment of school choice policies to be particularly promising for Hispanic children, who face high dropout rates and low college participation rates.
Given the failure of other measures to improve achievement among that population of students, the authors conclude, “[T]he time has come to embrace bold reform.”
Krista Kafer is senior policy analyst for education at The Heritage Foundation. Her email address is [email protected].
For more information …
The November 4, 2003 report from the Children’s Educational Opportunity Foundation, “Choice, Change & Progress: School Choice and the Hispanic Education Crisis,” by Jennifer O. Aguirre and Matthew Ladner, is available online at http://www.childrenfirstamerica.org/research/choice/CEOReportRevised10-28-03.pdf.
The October 2002 Civic Bulletin No. 27 from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, “Rising to the Challenge: The Effect of School Choice on Public Schools in Milwaukee and San Antonio,” by Jay P. Greene and Greg Forster, is available online at http://www.manhattan-institute.org/cb_27.pdf.