Report Concocts Supposed Economic Benefits of Pennsylvania’s Neovoucher Program

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Key New NEPC Review Takeaway: Due to report’s false claims based on misrepresentation and misapplication of research findings, it is of little value for informing policies.

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A Commonwealth Foundation report argues that expanding a program that uses tax credits to create vouchers for private schooling can lead to large economic gains for the state of Pennsylvania. Such gains would result from two purported benefits: increased lifetime earnings for those attending private schools on vouchers, and reduced social costs associated with crime.

Bruce Baker of Rutgers University reviewed Unleashing Educational Opportunity: The Untapped Potential of Expanded Tax Credit Scholarships, and found issues that undermine the report’s conclusions and its usefulness.

The report’s assertions, Professor Baker points out, are based on the erroneous claim that a vast body of rigorous research shows higher academic achievement among voucher recipients and shows that these voucher recipients are more likely to attend and graduate college and less likely to commit felonies.

Supporting that thesis would require sufficient evidence that expanding vouchers for private schooling in Pennsylvania or similar contexts would likely lead to the projected outcomes. The report cannot honestly muster that evidence. Instead, it ignores recent negative studies of statewide private school choice programs, misapplies findings on charter schools, and misrepresents literature on crime reduction.

Moreover, Professor Baker points out, the core claim that vouchers improve reading achievement is based on findings from some charter school studies, not studies of children attending private school on taxpayer-subsidized vouchers. Given the negative effects on student achievement found in recent studies of voucher programs, this data selection choice makes the estimates particularly suspect.

Finally, the report applies facile assumptions to suggest that vouchers generate additional cost savings, a suggestion that’s achieved by setting public expenditure levels for vouchers that are lower than average district per-pupil spending levels. For all these reasons, Professor Baker concludes that the report is of no practical use to policymakers.

Find the review, by Bruce D. Baker, at:
https://nepc.colorado.edu/thinktank/tax-credits

Find Unleashing Educational Opportunity: The Untapped Potential of Expanded Tax Credit Scholarships, written by Corey DeAngelis and published by Commonwealth Foundation, here.

NEPC Reviews (http://thinktankreview.org) provide the public, policymakers, and the press with timely, academically sound reviews of selected publications. NEPC Reviews are made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), a university research center housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at: https://nepc.colorado.edu

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William J. Mathis

Bruce D. Baker
Rutgers University
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