“Comparing FTC students with demographically and academically similar students who remained in public schools, we find a positive impact on college enrollment in every sector.” – Urban Institute
They say that “If it bleeds, it leads” and perhaps that’s the explanation for such anemic coverage of some good news out of Florida about the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program. But at a time when it seems no one can agree on much of anything, hopefully everyone can get on board with the idea that long term success for students is a worthy and important goal.
The Florida Tax Credit Scholarship is the largest private school choice program in the country and serves about 100,000 low-income students this year. There are currently 13,000 kids on a waiting list for the program. Earlier this week, Urban Institute released the results of an important and first of its kind longitudinal study and we now know that that students who participate in the program are not only matriculating in college at higher numbers than like students in public schools but also earning four year degrees at a higher rate. As efforts increase nationally to support students in getting “to and through college,” this news out of Florida is worthy of celebration.
This Urban Institute study is important because of the new information it provides. We knew from their 2017 study (Chingos and Kuehn) that students in the FTC program were more likely to enroll in college and only slightly more likely to obtain associate’s degrees—but there was nothing in the data to show statistically significant differences in the attainment of a bachelor’s degree. Now there is. Students who enrolled in the scholarship program in grades 8-10 were were 20 percent more likely than their similar peers to graduate from college with a four year degree. Students who were enrolled in the program for four or more years were 45 percent more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree.
But before we celebrate too much, it’s important to keep in mind only 12 percent of FTC participants earn four year degrees. The number, while better than the rate for their public school counterparts, is still way too low and a stark reminder of how much more work there is to do. But good news is good news and worthy of our attention.
There is an important conversation about cost that also needs to be had in the context of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program and its positive outcomes. When it comes to K-12 education, Florida is a low spending state. The amount spent, per scholarship, is approximately 60 cents on the dollar when compared to the state’s public system which makes these results more remarkable not only from an achievement standpoint but also from a budgetary one.
Programs like the Florida Tax Credit scholarship are driven by the accountability naturally embedded in parents having choices. Parents are driving the quality. Interestingly, the FTC program can’t point to statistically better test scores than its traditional counterparts — but perhaps test scores aren’t as predictive of long term success as we are wont to believe. What we do know is that the scholarship students are typically the lowest-performing students in their public schools and that, once on scholarship and in the schools of their parents’ choice, they collectively are making the same annual learning gains as students of all income levels nationally. Florida has given parents the discretion to figure out what works best for their own child and the Urban Institute report is evidence that when it comes to long term success, that educational freedom is bearing fruit.