2008 March – Backgrounder – Los⁠t⁠ Oppor⁠t⁠un⁠i⁠⁠t⁠y: An Emp⁠i⁠r⁠i⁠cal Analys⁠i⁠s of How Vouchers Affec⁠t⁠ed Flor⁠i⁠da Publ⁠i⁠c Schools

By: The James Madison Institute / 2008


The impact of Florida’s “A+” accountability program, which until 2006 included a voucher program for chronically failing schools, on public school performance has been extensively studied. The results have consistently shown a positive effect on academic outcomes in Florida public schools. However, no empirical research has been done on the impact of the program after 2002-03, the first year in which a substantial number of students were eligible for vouchers. This narrow focus has left the public with an incomplete picture of the true role of vouchers in producing the public school improvements associated with the A+ program.

This empirical study is the first to analyze the effects of vouchers in the A+ program after 2002-03. It includes a separate analysis for each year from 2001-02 to 2006-07. Thus, it is the first study to analyze how the program’s effects were changed by the court-ordered removal of vouchers in January 2006. Moreover, it uses superior-quality data that track the progress of individual students over time, which have not been available to the general public until recently.

The study finds that vouchers were a key element driving improvements in public schools from the A+ program. At every step, the academic performance of failing public schools in Florida responded to changes in the status of vouchers in the A+ program. While Florida is still experiencing improvements in student performance, the removal of vouchers from the program reduced the magnitude of these improvements. Key findings include:

• Before vouchers were widely available, the A+ program produced modest improvements in failing public schools. In 2001-02, public schools that were threatened with vouchers if they did not improve outperformed other Florida public schools by 13 points in math on the state’s developmental scale.

• In the first year when substantial numbers of vouchers were available, the program produced dramatically larger improvements in failing public schools. In 2002-03, public schools whose students were offered vouchers outperformed other Florida public schools by 69 points.

• In later years, as voucher participation rates dropped due to procedural obstacles that prevented many eligible families from using vouchers, the positive effect was not so large. From 2003-04 through 2005-06, public schools whose students were offered vouchers outperformed other Florida public schools by between 20 and 27 points.

• The removal of vouchers caused the positive impact on public schools to drop well below what it had been even in 2001-02, before vouchers were widely available. Schools that would have been eligible for vouchers in 2006-07 outperformed other Florida public schools by 11 points. The statistical certainty of this result is more moderate than the certainty of the results for earlier years. And schools that would have been threatened with vouchers made no gains relative to other Florida public schools (compared to the 13 points they gained in 2001-02).