Mike Brake | November 7, 2017

Private-school choice boosts college enrollment, graduation

Mike Brake

By Mike Brake

The best test of any school choice program is this simple one: Does it help kids learn more? New research into the nation’s largest school choice program, Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program (FTC), shows that it clearly does.

“Although several studies have documented the effects of statewide private school choice programs on student test scores, this report is the first to examine the effects of one of these programs on college enrollment and graduation,” write Matthew Chingos and Daniel Kuehn of The Urban Institute (hardly a bastion of conservative thought). “Using data from the Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship program, we find that low-income Florida students who attended private schools using an FTC scholarship enrolled in and graduated from Florida colleges at a higher rate than their public school counterparts.”

The FTC was created in 2001. It grants tax credits to individuals and businesses that donate to a scholarship fund that in turn allows low-income students to attend private schools.

Chingos and Kuehn examined post-graduation experiences of more than 10,000 FTC students who were enrolled in the program from 2004 through 2010, and compared them to a peer group that remained in public schools.

Overall, FTC participation boosted college enrollment by 15 percent. But the longer students were in the program, the better the outcomes.

Three years in FTC resulted in a college enrollment advantage of from 19 to 25 percent, while students who spent four or more years in FTC were almost twice (43 percent) as likely to go on to college as their public school peers.

Best of all, students who entered the FTC program in grades 3 through 7 also showed increased improvements in completing associate degrees. Overall the study is very clear: kids who took advantage of the FTC program were more likely to attend college and improve their lives.

“We are incredibly pleased to see the results of this study,” said Greg Brock, executive director of the American Federation for Children, “as it confirms what we have known to be true for years: private school choice programs provide families, especially disadvantaged families, greater opportunities to achieve academic success. And given that the Florida program serves students that have average family incomes of $25,000 per year, with 68 percent of the 100,000 enrolled students being Black or Hispanic, it shows that private school choice programs can close the academic achievement gap for minorities and low-income families.”

What do these results mean for students? A fuller understanding “will require continuing to track their outcomes as more progress through their education and into the workforce,” Chingos and Kuehn write. “As policymakers consider the design, expansion, or reform of private school choice programs, they should carefully examine not just a program’s likely impact on short-term metrics such as test scores, but also how it might shape long-term outcomes, including college enrollment and graduation.”

Mike Brake is a journalist and writer who recently authored a centennial history of Putnam City Schools. He served as chief writer for Gov. Frank Keating and for then-Lt. Gov. and Congresswoman Mary Fallin, and has also served as an adjunct instructor at OSU-OKC.

Mike Brake

Independent Journalist

Mike Brake is a journalist and writer who recently authored a centennial history of Putnam City Schools. A former reporter at The Oklahoman (his coverage of the moon landing earned a front-page byline on July 21, 1969), he served as chief writer for Gov. Frank Keating and for Lt. Gov. and Congresswoman Mary Fallin. He has also served as an adjunct instructor at OSU-OKC, and currently serves as public information officer for Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan.

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