Giving Compass' Take:

• Authors from the Urban Institute unpack what a proposed plan to expand school choice through a nationwide tax credit scholarship.

• How can funders help the public to understand the consequences of a bill like this? 

• Learn more about the fight over school choice

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, along with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL), announced a bill to create a nationwide tax credit scholarship program that could expand school choice.

In light of the announcement, we offer four important takeaways from our research on school choice for policymakers considering the program.

1. Recent research on private school choice programs shows limited effects on achievement but positive effects on college enrollment.

In recent studies of school voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana, researchers found that students who switched from public to private school through a voucher program lost ground in the first few years, as measured by test scores. But a series of Urban Institute papers, including a report on Florida’s tax credit scholarship program released last month, found that participating in private school choice usually increased the rate at which students went to and graduated from college. The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program offers the one exception, as students in this program were no more or less likely to go to college. They were, however, more likely to graduate high school, and parents reported higher levels of satisfaction.

2. Geography matters.
Whether private school choice, public school choice, or transportation investments would make the most sense will depend heavily on the state’s educational landscape and on where students live.

3. Transportation can be a barrier to choice.
In cities with substantial school choice, we have found that black students typically travel farther than white students to school, and that, relative to driving, taking public transit can easily double or triple the time it takes to get to school. Traveling to a more distant but preferred school can bring costs for both students and their families. States could, however, use these funds to subsidize transportation to non-neighborhood schools. Some states already do this.

4. School choice policies might work against desegregation efforts.
A recent analysis of New York City’s centralized high school choice policy found that parents prefer schools with high-achieving peers over schools that are more effective at raising student test scores. As a result, expanding school choice could lead to intense competition for spaces at popular schools and increased segregation by race and class. But the proposed tax credit scholarship program could be used to support desegregation efforts, such as scholarships that enable low-income students to go to school in a neighboring district or targeted transportation subsidies aimed at increasing socioeconomic integration.

Read the full article about tax credit scholarships for school choice by Kristin Blagg, Matthew Chingos, Tomas Monarrez, and Alexandra Tilsley at Urban Institute.