Private School Vouchers and Student Achievement: An Evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

Cecilia Elena Rouse

NBER Working Paper No. 5964
Issued in March 1997
NBER Program(s):Children, Labor Studies, Public Economics

In 1990, Wisconsin became the first state in the country to provide vouchers to low income students to attend non-sectarian private schools. In this paper, I use a variety of estimation strategies and samples to estimate the effect of the program on math and reading scores. First, since schools selected students randomly from among their applicants if the school was oversubscribed, I compare the academic achievement of students who were selected to those who were not selected. Second, I present instrumental variables estimates of the effectiveness of private schools (relative to public schools) using the initial selection as an instrumental variable for attendance at a private school. Finally, I used a fixed-effects strategy to compare students enrolled in the private schools to a sample of students from the Milwaukee public schools. I find that the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program appears to have had a positive effect on the math achievement of those who attended a private school; but had no benefits for reading scores. I have found the results to be fairly robust to data imputations and sample attrition, however these limitations should be kept in mind when interpreting the results.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w5964

Published: Quarterly Journal of Economics, Vol. 113, no. 2 (May 1998): 553-602.

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