Remember how our Legislature passed stealth vouchers to give their insurance company pals tax breaks for laundering public money into private-school scholarships? Even if we set aside concerns that Senate Bill 159 is just an ALEC-stroking privatization ploy, even if we let slide concerns that funding private schools violates the Legislature’s singular duty to support public schools, we can still advocate for the repeal of the stealth vouchers for one simple reason: they don’t work.
Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools scored lower compared to similar students who did not attend private schools. This is the kind of research finding that generates a reaction of ‘wait, what?’ Negative effects are rare in education research.
The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large, too. In Louisiana, a public school student who was average in math (at the 50th percentile) and began attending a private school using a voucher declined to the 34th percentile after one year. If that student was in third, fourth, or fifth grade, the decline was steeper, to the 26th percentile. Reading declined, too: a student at the 50th percentile in reading declined to about the 46th percentile. In Indiana, a student who had entered a private school with a math score at the 50th percentile declined to the 44th percentile after one year [Mark Dynarski, “On Negative Effects of Vouchers,” Brookings Institution, 2016.05.26].
Black Hills education expert Carol Hayse mentioned the bad results in Louisiana earlier this spring. Advocates of SB 159 said they want to help kids, but the examples of Louisiana and Indiana the Legislature and the Governor put their ideological fantasies above evidence-based policymaking.