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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