The nation’s only federally funded voucher program had a negative effect on student achievement from one year to the next, particularly in math, according to a new federal analysis of the program that helps about 1,100 students in the District of Columbia attend private school.
The Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the Education Department, released the evaluation Thursday in the wake of recent studies of state-funded voucher programs in Indiana, Louisiana and Ohio that also showed negative effects on achievement. It comes amid growing scrutiny of voucher programs as President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are seeking to pour billions of dollars into expanding vouchers and other alternatives to public schools.
Vouchers, deeply controversial in public education, are direct government subsidies that parents can use as scholarships for private schools. These payments can cover all or part of the annual tuition bills, depending on the school chosen.
In the District, the findings show that students who used vouchers had significantly lower math test scores a year after they applied to the program, on average, than students who did not receive a scholarship. Reading scores also were lower, but the difference was not statistically significant.
Among students who transferred into a private school from a low-performing public school — the population that the voucher program primarily aims to reach — attending a private school had no effect on achievement, positive or negative. Among students attending schools not designated low-performing, the negative effect was particularly large.
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