Giving Compass' Take:

• The authors shed light on the benefits of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) voucher assistance for private choice schools. 

• How can donors support school voucher programs? 

• Read about if school vouchers in some states only benefit the wealthy.  

Schools are expected to help shape the character skills needed to live a good life and contribute to society. In theory, programs that help families send their children to a private school could improve character skills through exposure to peers and school cultures that discourage risky behaviors. Do private school choice programs actually help achieve this goal? Our just-released evaluation of the longest-running modern school voucher program in the United States—the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP)—suggests that they do.

The study updates and extends our previous work on the same program with new data, including information on students’ criminal activity and involvement in paternity disputes as young adults. We gathered these data in fall 2018, when the 2,178 students we have been following in a longitudinal evaluation of the MPCP were roughly 25 to 28 years old. Half of these students were using vouchers to attend a private school in 8th or 9th grade in 2006; the rest are a carefully matched sample of students who attended Milwaukee Public Schools. Comparing the outcomes of these two groups reveals how exposure to the MPCP at that time affected students’ later outcomes, regardless of how long students initially using vouchers remained enrolled in private schools.

Our results confirm that the program reduces the incidence of both criminal activity and paternity disputes for young adults. Specifically, we find that participating in the program in 8th or 9th grade is associated with a statistically significant reduction of around 53 percent in drug-related convictions, 86 percent in property damage convictions, and 38 percent in paternity disputes.

Of course, much more research on this topic is needed. While two random assignment studies find that winning a charter school lottery reduces crime for male students, no random assignment studies link private school choice to adult crime or paternity disputes. Even so, our new results suggest that the Milwaukee voucher program improves low-income urban students’ long-term prospects for life success by helping them avoid both prison and unplanned pregnancies.

Read the full article about private school choice by Corey DeAngelis and Patrick J. Wolf at Education Next