Research & Commentary: Louisiana Should Open Its Voucher Program to Military, Bullied, and Foster Care Children

Published March 27, 2018

A proposal in in the Louisiana House of Representatives would expand eligibility to the Student Scholarships for Educational Excellence Program, colloquially known as the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), a school voucher program for low-income students launched in 2008.

Currently, students are eligible for LSP if their family’s income is no higher than 250 percent of the federal poverty level ($61,500 in 2017–18). These students must also have been enrolled in a public school that received a “C,” “D,” or “F” grade, or enrolled in a school in the state-administered Recovery School District. Low-income students enrolling in kindergarten are also eligible for the program. There were just under 7,000 students participating in LSP in 2016–17.

The proposal would expand LSP to allow the children of active-duty military personnel stationed in Louisiana to enroll in the program, as well as children in foster care, or children who are “the victim of bullying.”

Researchers at the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) at the University of Arkansas, working in conjunction with the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, have been releasing an ongoing series of studies on LSP. These studies are considered “gold standard” by academics because they use random assignment to measure outcomes. (Because of high demand, Louisiana chose LSP students via random lottery, allowing researchers at SCDP and elsewhere to make “apples-to-apples” comparisons between those who did and did not get accepted into the program.)

An earlier study, released in February 2016, reported LSP students made significantly lower gains in English language arts (ELA) and math compared to the students’ public school peers who were denied vouchers during the first year of the program. Second-year scores showed an improvement for LSP students, but they still trailed the public school students studied.

However, the latest study, released in July 2017, and which included a third year of data available for evaluation, found LSP students had closed the gap with their public school peers, to the point where the scores were “statistically similar,” “with small positive impact estimates” for ELA. As the findings reveal, the longer the student spends in LSP, the better they tend to perform.

Other studies of LSP by SCDP have shown the program is saving Louisiana moneyreducing segregation in Pelican State public schools, and, via competition, improving outcomes for students who remain in the public schools, especially those schools that are most aggressively challenged by their LSP counterparts.

In May 2016, EdChoice released a report in which it examines 100 empirical studies of school choice programs, 18 of which used the “gold standard” random assignment to measure outcomes. The available empirical evidence on these private school choice programs makes it clear they have a positive impact on the academic performance of participating students, while doing so at a lower cost than public schools, and while simultaneously benefitting public school studentsdecreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.

Based on what we know about the educational benefits of school choice programs in general and the cost-saving, integrationist benefits of LSP, it is not out of bounds to say an expansion of the program for military, foster care, and bullied children is well-deserving. Voucher programs like LSP allow families to have access to much greater opportunities, helping them to meet the particular education needs of their children. The goal of public education in Louisiana today and in the years to come should be to allow all parents to choose which schools their children attend, require every school to compete for every student who walks through its doors, and make sure every child has the opportunity to attend a quality school.

The following documents provide more information about voucher programs and school choice.

The Effect of the Louisiana Scholarship Program on Student Achievement after Three Years
This paper from the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas on the Louisiana Scholarship Program found test scores for voucher recipients have pulled even with their public school peers, suggesting the longer students stay in a voucher program, the more their outcomes improve.

How Has the Louisiana Scholarship Program Affected Students? A Comprehensive Summary of Effects after Three Years
This Policy Brief from the School Choice Demonstration at the University of Arkansas summarizes the findings of three of its prior technical reports on the Louisiana Scholarship Program.

Making Sense of New Evidence on Private School Vouchers
This Urban Institute panel discusses the latest results from the Louisiana Scholarship Program and what those results mean for the future of private school vouchers around the country. Panelists include Matthew Chingos, director of the Education Policy Program at the Urban Institute; Douglas Harris, director of the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans; John White, Louisiana state superintendent of education; Patrick Wolf, professor and 21st Century Chair in School Choice at the University of Arkansas; and Beth Blaufuss, president of Archbishop Carroll High School in New Orleans.

Supplying Choice: An Analysis of School Participation Decisions in Voucher Programs in DC, Indiana, and Louisiana
This paper from the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas examines the impacts of private school regulations on the supply side of voucher programs. The researchers found independent private schools that are forced to endure substantial regulations from the state are likely to be financially distressed and more willing to change their educational model. The paper also found states with higher regulatory burdens are less likely to have schools participating in voucher programs than states with lower regulatory burdens.

Special Education Identification in the Louisiana Scholarship Program
This paper from the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas examines the impact of enrollment in the Louisiana Scholarship Program on special-education identification and de-identification.

Squeezing the Public School Districts: The Fiscal Effects of Eliminating the Louisiana Scholarship Program
This paper from the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas finds the beleaguered Louisiana Scholarship Program, a voucher program for low-income students in poor schools, is saving the state money and its cancellation would increase costs for more than four out of five local school districts.

Education Savings Accounts: The Future of School Choice Has Arrived
In this new Heartland Policy Brief, Policy Analyst Tim Benson discusses how universal ESA programs offer the most comprehensive range of educational choices to parents; describes the six ESA programs currently in operation; and reviews possible state-level constitutional challenges to ESA programs.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

Competition: For the Children
This study from the Texas Public Policy Foundation claims universal school choice results in higher test scores for students remaining in traditional public schools and improved high school graduation rates.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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