An Evaluation of New York City School Vouchers

Prepared for
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation
The Spencer Foundation
The Smith Richardson Foundation
The Achelis and Bodman Foundations
The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
The Donner Foundation
The Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation
The John M. Olin Foundation

In 1997, the School Choice Scholarships Foundation (SCSF) announced that it would provide 1,300 scholarships so that children of low-income families in grades K–4 in the New York City public schools could transfer to private schools. Each scholarship, or voucher, was worth up to $1,400 annually and could be used for up to four years at a religious or a secular school.

Mathematica along with researchers at Harvard University joined together in conducting an evaluation of the SCSF program in New York City to examine the impact of vouchers on students and parents for students switching to private schools. New York City has not only a racially and ethnically diverse population but also the largest school system in the nation. We estimated the effects of vouchers on education outcomes using a random assignment design, which allowed us to isolate the effect of vouchers on the outcomes of interest, including student test scores, school climate and facilities, and parents’ involvement and communication with schools.

The study included data collection, analysis of test scores and survey data, and the reporting of annual findings. We collected data four times on the same students and families between 1997 and 2000. The results showed that the vouchers had positive impacts on test scores for African American students, but no impacts on test scores for Latino students. In addition, the study found that parental satisfaction with their child's school was higher among parents of students who attended a private school.