Research & Commentary: Louisiana Voucher Students Continue to Improve

Published July 14, 2017

Researchers with the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) at the University of Arkansas, in conjunction with the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans, have released the latest in their ongoing series of studies on the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), a school voucher for low-income students. SCDP’s study is considered “gold standard” by academics because it uses 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.)

The study evaluates how the LSP voucher has affected student achievement after three years. A previous SCDP study 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.

The new study, 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 money, reducing 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.

To be eligible for the LSP, the average of which was worth over $5,800 in the 2015–16 school year, students must come from families earning under 251 percent of the federal poverty level and must have attended a school C-rated or below during the previous school year. Greater than 7,100 Louisiana children took advantage of the program in 121 different schools during the 2015–16 school year. Eighty-seven percent of LSP applicants are black, and “prior to applying to the LSP, students performed below the state average in ELA, math, science, and social studies by around 20 percentile points on the state accountability test.”

In May 2016, EdChoice released a report in which it examines 100 empirical studies of school choice programs. Like this latest study from SCDP, eighteen of these studies used random assignment to measure outcomes, referred to in academia as “gold standard.” The overwhelming majority of the available empirical evidence shows education choice offers families equal access to high-quality schools that meet their widely diverse needs and desires, and, according to the research, it does so at a lower cost. EdChoice also found education choice also benefits public school students. 

“The results are not difficult to explain,” the study says. “School choice improves academic outcomes for participants and public schools by allowing students to find the schools that best match their needs and by introducing healthy competition that keeps schools mission-focused. It saves money by eliminating administrative bloat and rewarding good stewardship of resources [and it] breaks down the barriers of residential segregation, drawing students together from diverse communities.”

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 LSP deserves a return to full funding from Louisiana legislators in the 2018 legislative session.

The following documents provide more information on LSP, school vouchers, and education 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 the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice 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.

2016/17 School Choice Report Card
This report card published by the American Federation for Children scores 27 active non-special-needs voucher, scholarship tax-credit, and education savings account programs against ideal standards for program quality. The report is an excellent tool policymakers and researchers can use to help improve education programs and maximize student participation. 

The Fiscal Effects of School Choice Programs on Public School Districts
In the first-ever study of public school districts’ fixed costs in every state and Washington, DC, Benjamin Scafidi concludes approximately 36 percent of school district spending cannot be quickly reduced when students leave. The remaining 64 percent, or approximately $8,000 per student on average, are variable costs, changing directly with student enrollment. This means a school choice program attaching less than $8,000 to each child who leaves a public school for a private school actually leaves the district with more money to spend on each remaining child. In the long run, Scafidi notes, all local district spending is variable, meaning all funds could be attached to individual children over time without creating fiscal problems for government schools.


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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