NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 25, 2010

From 1998 to 2008, the Children's Educational Opportunity (CEO) Foundation funded a $52.4 million voucher program for residents of the low-performing Edgewood Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas.  The vouchers were available to any student in Edgewood whose family chose to participate, regardless of academic ability or income.

A first-year evaluation of the program showed that voucher participants were very similar to Edgewood students, says John D. Merrified, professor of economics at the University of Texas at San Antonio and senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis.  Unfortunately, for comparative purposes, voucher students took a different standardized test to gauge their progress than students who remained in the public schools. Therefore, there is no basis to estimate what the voucher users' achievement level would have been had they not participated in the program.  However, the probability of graduating high school and attending college significantly increased among voucher students:

  • While Edgewood's four-year graduation rate peaked at 80 percent in 2004, the three private high schools that educated the majority of voucher users reported graduation and college attendance rates approaching 100 percent.
  • Indeed, a 2007 study found college attendance rates for voucher students were 91 percent and 93 percent in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
  • By contrast, as an indicator of interest, the proportion of district high school students taking college admissions tests barely topped 60 percent in 1999, 2000 and 2007.

The second year after the vouchers were introduced -- the 1999-2000 school year -- was the first year that Edgewood had an exemplary school.  In fact, Edgewood went from zero exemplary schools to three in 1999-2000.  From 1998 to 2008, the number of recognized Edgewood campuses tripled from three to nine, and the single unacceptable campus was reclassified as acceptable. 

Furthermore, Edgewood significantly increased its high school graduation rate. The district's graduation rates were compared to a number of other districts with similar demographics. An analysis found:

  • If Edgewood's high school graduation rate had increased at the average rate for comparable school districts, it would have risen from 57 percent in 1998 to 63.2 percent in 2004.
  • Instead, Edgewood's graduation rate rose to 80 percent in 2004 (the peak year of voucher program participation), and, thus, nearly 17 percentage points of the increase is attributable to the voucher program.

While these advancements cannot all be directly credited to the voucher program, the timing suggests the program did play a role in improving Edgewood's performance.

Source:  John D. Merrifield, 'Education Vouchers Benefit Edgewood Students," National Center for Policy Analysis, Brief Analysis No. 699, March 25, 2010.

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