Evaluation of Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program: Participation, Compliance and Test Scores in 2009-10
Since 2002, the Sunshine State has run a popular tax-credit scholarship program: At present, over 15,000 low-income students in grades three through ten access 1,000-plus private schools through it. But how effective has the program been at promoting their academic success? According to this annual report (the fourth in the series) from project director and Northwestern U. scholar David Figlio: quite. Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program (FTC) serves a particularly needy subset of the state’s students: FTC participants are significantly lower-income and lower-performing than the average student qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch. Yet this year’s FTC participants maintained their performance on norm-referenced tests (like the Stanford Achievement Test or Iowa Test of Basic Skills) relative to students nationally, regardless of income. Going further, Figlio compares students who barely missed the income cut-off mark for participation against those who do make it into the program, finding a small but substantive positive effect from participation in both reading and math. These differences are larger than in previous years, suggesting, says Figlio, “that successive cohorts of participating students may be gaining ground over time.” These findings are encouraging—though Figlio adds some sobering qualifications. Comparing scores across a variety of tests (FTC participants take any of three tests, while public-school students take another) requires some complex statistical yoga, for example. Likewise, conclusions about causation are full of caveats, since applicants are not randomly selected for participation. Still and all, this report offers a solid boost for the tax-credit crowd—especially important in this “year of school choice.”
David N. Figlio, “Evaluation of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program: Participation, Compliance and Test Scores in 2009-10” (Northwestern University and National Bureau of Economic Research, August 2011).
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