School Choice Advancing in Indiana, Tennessee

While the Pennsylvania Senate continues to deliberate on Senate Bill 1, school choice is moving along in several other states as well.

Last week, the Tennessee Senate passed a bill to create a school voucher program. The Indiana Senate did the same, passing a version of legislation to create vouchers previously passed in the Indiana House.

Why the national push for more parental choice in education?  Katrina Trinko sums it up in a recent USA Today column:

In Washington, D.C., a 2010 study by the U.S. Department of Education found that there was a 21 percentage point gap between the graduation rates of those in the voucher program (graduation rate: 91%) and those who had applied, but had failed to win the placement lottery (70%). A study released late last month by the University of Arkansas’ School Choice Demonstration Project showed a similar pattern in Milwaukee, with those using vouchers in the 9th grade graduating at a rate (77%) eight percentage points higher than their peers in public schools (69%).

Both the Washington, D.C. and Milwaukee voucher programs serve low-income students, for whom educational success is not the norm. According to Teach for America, an organization that recruits recent college graduates to teach at failing public schools, only half of low-income students graduate high school by age 18.

… not one study has showed that vouchers students do worse than their economic peers in public schools, according to University of Arkansas education professor Patrick Wolf, a researcher on both the Washington and the Milwaukee studies.

“It’s either no significant difference or a positive effect,” says Wolf. He also notes that evidence supports the notion that vouchers boost academic outcomes more than other, less controversial reforms, such as class size reductions and additional mentoring.

Nor will vouchers hurt public schools: a March report by the Foundation for Educational Choice showed that in 18 out of 19 studies done on the impact of vouchers, public schools improved after the introduction of a voucher program.