Pluck and Tenacity: How five private schools in Ohio have adapted to vouchers

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Roughly 30,000 kids in Ohio take advantage of a publicly funded voucher (or “scholarship”). But as students flee public schools for private ones, how does life change for the private schools that take voucher kids? Can private schools coexist with a publicly-funded voucher program? Can they adapt as they educate more students from disadvantaged backgrounds?

This new report from the Fordham Institute digs into these questions. Our study finds that, yes, voucher programs are changing private schools. But at the same time, these private schools are bravely—even heroically—adapting to such changes.

Written by Ellen Belcher, former editor at the Dayton Daily News and an award-winning journalist, Pluck and Tenacity delivers a candid view of life in private schools that take voucher kids. For this report, Ellen traveled across Ohio, visiting five schools: Three are Catholic—Immaculate Conception in Dayton, Saint Martin de Porres in Cleveland, and St. Patrick of Heatherdowns in Toledo—and two are evangelical—Eden Grove in Cincinnati and Youngstown Christian School.

The case studies yield seven key takeaways about private “voucher schools”:

  1. They are relentlessly mission oriented, and vouchers help support their missions
  2. These private schools have kept their distinctive values (e.g., behavioral standards, religious practices)
  3. The schools have become more diverse
  4. As they welcome more students who are far behind academically, these schools set high standards
  5. The schools worry—even agonize—about their academic quality
  6. Financial realities factor into the schools’ decisions to take voucher students
  7. None of the schools objected to state testing requirements.

For policymakers, this report should prompt clear thinking about how to strengthen voucher programs. As our research shows, some private schools are teetering financially, which is one (but not the only) reason lawmakers should consider boosting the per-pupil voucher amount. At the same time, if states make substantial public investments in private-school options, taxpayers have every reason to expect strong student outcomes. The good news is that private schools seem to understand the need for academic accountability and transparency when participating in voucher programs.

On January 30, 2014, we convened a group of school leaders in Columbus to discuss the report's findings. Click on the image below to watch the video of that event:

Private Schools, Public Vouchers - School Leaders Panel

We also convened a group of education policy leaders to discuss the report's implications. Click on the image below to watch the video of that event:

Private Schools, Public Vouchers - Policy Leaders Panel

Correction (3/10/14): The report's title pages have been updated to attribute authorship of the Executive Summary.


If you have questions about the book, please email Aaron Churchill.