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Jubilee Catholic Schools Network president David Hill writes guest column for The Commercial Appeal

School Vouchers Improve Educational Outcomes

A few years ago, a colleague at the legacy Memphis City Schools was surprised to learn that I supported school vouchers.

To explain, let's begin with a single child. Which would be better for this child — his or her parents choosing a school from a broad menu of excellent choices or having fewer options due to family income?

School vouchers would benefit children and our entire community in important new ways, though the concept itself would not be entirely new. I will offer three points to support this claim: The very best research indicates that school vouchers improve educational outcomes.

Only one voucher study has utilized the gold standard of research — the "luck of the draw" — while tracking the impact of vouchers from kindergarten to college matriculation. In 2012, Harvard University and the Brookings Institution researchers detailed the long-term impact of privately funded vouchers for low-income students in New York City.

Results showed that African-American students who used a voucher to attend a private school were 24 percent more likely to enroll in college than were African-American students who did not win the voucher lottery. They were also more than twice as likely to attend a selective college.

Because pure chance determined lottery winners, we know that the group of students with vouchers shared the same characteristics and circumstances as the group without vouchers. Therefore, we can be confident that the voucher itself — and not other unseen factors — made the difference in these children's lives.

We should have less confidence in voucher studies that lack the "luck of the draw" and, therefore, compare apples to oranges. After all, accurate data can be misleading. For example, did you know that eating ice cream appears to cause people to drown? There really are more drowning fatalities on days when more ice cream is eaten. Of course, though, it is swimming — not ice cream — that increases drowning rates. Ice cream is simply connected to swimming because people are more likely to both eat ice cream and swim on hot days.

School vouchers have the potential to save money.

Opponents of vouchers often claim that school vouchers "drain" public funding, but the opposite is true. Vouchers save taxpayer money when the voucher amount is less than the total public funding it would otherwise take to educate a child. The Friedman Foundation recently studied 10 school vouchers programs and found that the vouchers have thus far saved taxpayers at least $1.7 billion. Because of such savings, public school systems typically have higher per-pupil funding as a result of vouchers.

Tennesseans already use public funds to pay for private school tuition.

It is sometimes argued that public funding should not be used for private education. This is an odd argument, given that the state of Tennessee offers tuition scholarships, including Tennessee Hope Scholarships, to students attending numerous private colleges and universities. Similarly, the Tennessee Child Care Certificate Program provides publicly funded subsidies for a variety of child care options, including private preschools.

With the Tennessee General Assembly considering voucher legislation, the Jubilee Catholic Schools Network welcomes the prospect of more children benefiting from the hard work of our talented and committed teachers.

Over the past two years, more than three-fourths of our elementary students (of whom 87 percent are economically disadvantaged) met or exceeded their expected achievement growth on the Iowa Assessment Core Composite, and our kindergarten students averaged above the 80th national percentile in reading. Encouraged but not satisfied, we will continually look for even better ways to provide an academically rigorous and vibrantly Catholic education that prepares children to become all that God created them to be.

School vouchers have the potential to improve educational outcomes, save taxpayer dollars, and increase per-pupil funding for public schools. With public funding already supporting the private educations of many pre-K and college students, it is now time to provide the same publicly funded educational opportunities to children in grades K-12.

This column was originally published on Feb. 15, 2015 in The Commercial Appeal

Posted by Linden Wilson at 2:18 PM