Enacted in 2001 and now enrolling nearly 60,000 needy students, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship (FTC) is the largest private-school choice program in the nation. Since March 2008, economist David Figlio has reported evaluation results on an annual basis. This report, his seventh and possibly last due to an unfortunate change in Florida law, documents his findings on the 2012-13 school year. The results: As in previous years, scholarship students who transfer from a public to private school tend to be lower-achieving and from poorer-performing schools. In other words, private schools aren’t “cherry-picking” students. Per test performance, Florida’s scholarship students kept pace with the progress of students, of all income levels, nationwide over the course of the year. On average, they made a 0.1 percentile gain in reading but lost -0.7 percentiles in math on nationally-normed assessments. The gain in reading and loss in math were not statistically different from zero, suggesting that scholarship students gained a year’s worth of learning. (A gain of zero is interpreted as a year’s worth of learning.) The average gains, however, camouflage some variability in gains across Florida’s private-schools. For example, in reading, scholarship students in 6 percent of private schools had sluggish average loss of less than -10 percentile points, while those in 4 percent of schools posted impressive gains of 10 points or more. Due to the recent switch in Florida’s public-school assessments, Figlio was unable to compare private-school to public-school gains. As Florida continues to expand its scholarship program, state policymakers must continue to keep close watch on the program’s results to ensure that scholarship students are generally keeping pace academically. Moreover, given the low performance of a few private schools, policymakers should also consider sanctions against schools that persistently perform poorly.
Source: David N. Figlio, Evaluation of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program: Participation, Compliance and Test Scores in 2012-13 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, August 2014).