School Vouchers and Student Achievement: Evidence from the Louisiana Scholarship Program
We evaluate the Louisiana Scholarship Program (LSP), a prominent school voucher plan. The LSP provides public funds for disadvantaged students at low-performing Louisiana public schools to attend private schools of their choice. LSP vouchers are allocated by random lottery at schools with more eligible applicants than available seats. We estimate causal effects of voucher receipt by comparing outcomes for lottery winners and losers. This comparison reveals that LSP participation substantially reduces academic achievement. Attendance at an LSP-eligible private school lowers math scores by 0.4 standard deviations and increases the likelihood of a failing score by 50 percent. Voucher effects for reading, science and social studies are also negative and large. An exploration of mechanisms suggests these effects are not due to private schools’ inexperience with the program, disruption caused by school switching, or the quality of public school options available to LSP applicants. Negative voucher effects may be due in part to selection of low-quality private schools into the LSP: participating private schools charge lower tuition than other private schools and experience enrollment declines prior to entering the program. The program’s negative math effects are concentrated among the eligible schools with lowest tuition.
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This paper was revised on March 25, 2016
Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21839