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Ohio Vouchers Have Mixed Impact on Student Performance, Study Finds

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Students using vouchers to attend private schools in Ohio performed significantly worse on state tests than their peers who remained in public schools, according to a new study.

That's even though students who chose to use vouchers were higher performing than eligible students who opted not to use vouchers—although most voucher-eligible students are low-income and, by definition, must be zoned to a poor-performing district schools. 

The study was conducted by researchers David Figlio and Krzysztof Karbownik from Northwestern University for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning think tank.

However, the researchers credited the competitive pressure put on public schools for slightly improving the test scores of low-income students who were eligible for vouchers, but remained in their district schools. 

So, to just recap, the study found that vouchers were not beneficial for students who used them, but somewhat beneficial for the eligible students who opted not to use them. (You can dig into the full study and its methodology here: Evaluation of Ohio's EdChoice Scholarship Program by David Figlio and Krzysztof Karbownik.) 

These findings from Ohio are similar to a another recent study of Louisiana's voucher program by Tulane University's Education Research Alliance.  

"The disappointing participant results, albeit with a limited number of students, raises questions that deserve further exploration," said Chad Aldis, Vice President for Ohio Policy and Advocacy at the Fordham Institute in a statement. "This isn't the final word on the EdChoice program, but this suggests that further study on participating students' achievement test data and long-term outcomes would be wise."

Ohio's Educational Choice Scholarship Program was originally passed as a pilot program in 2005 for students assigned to consistently poor-performing public schools.

Eligibility requirements for vouchers have since expanded to include all economically disadvantaged students regardless of the quality of their public school. However, this study examined only the original voucher program, not its later spinoffs. (Ohio currently has five different voucher programs.)

Starting next year, students in Ohio can receive as much as $6,000 a year in public money for tuition at a private school, including religiously affiliated schools. Close to 40 percent of Ohio's private schools participate in the program, according to a separate report by Fordham.

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