Can School Choice Reduce Crime?

We know different parents have different preferences regarding how their children are educated. Some may place an emphasis on standardized test scores, while others want certain moral or religious values. And most all parents care about sending their child to a safe learning environment.

That's why the most recent findings on school choice are incredibly important. There is mounting evidence that empowering parents with educational options can also lead to reduced crime—which is desirable not only for parents but for society at large.

Consider the findings of these academic studies:

  1. David Deming studied a school choice program in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, which created a lottery system for families’ first-choice schools. The study compared those students permitted to attend their first-choice school to those who lost the lottery and remained in their zoned public school. Deming found that high school students in first-choice schools were arrested 45 percent less on felony charges and 70 percent less for drug felonies. Additionally, students who chose their school had fewer unexcused absences and suspensions. Most importantly, reductions in felony arrests and prison terms persisted even after students were no longer enrolled in school, and the greatest improvements were seen in the highest risk students.
  2. Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer compared academic and criminal outcomes between students who won a charter school lottery against those who lost the lottery. The authors found that lottery winning students had higher math and reading scores, were 23 percent more likely to graduate on time, and 52 percent more likely to enroll in college. Female students were 59 percent less likely to report a teenage pregnancy, while male students had a 100 percent reduction in incarcerations.
  3. Corey DeAngelis and Patrick Wolf studied the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, a large-scale initiative involving one-quarter of all Milwaukee students. Participating students received vouchers to attend a private school of their choice. DeAngelis and Wolf compared these voucher students to their public-school peers, finding that incidences of felonies, misdemeanors, drug-related crimes, traffic-related crimes, thefts, and accusations were greatly reduced. Most notably, felonies dropped by 79 percent, drug crimes by 93 percent, and theft by 87 percent.

Each study demonstrates that allowing parents to exercise school choice reduces the likelihood that their child will engage in criminal activity. This is particularly relevant in the commonwealth, as Pennsylvania has one of the highest incarceration rates in the Northeast

In addition to empowering children with a high quality education, school choice can reduce crime (and its associated costs) for all residents in our state.