Fact Sheets: The Truth About Vouchers

Increased Racial and Economic Segregation

  • While voucher proponents claim that vouchers will integrate private schools, evidence does not corroborate this. The Milwaukee-based Rethinking Schools compiled data on the racial breakdown of 6 participating Catholic schools (Catholic schools make up the majority of the participating religious schools). It found that white enrollment at each of the schools was between 64% and 97%, while white enrollment at public schools in the same areas were generally around 10% to 30%, with a low of 4.2%.42
  • Two reports by pro-voucher advocates released almost simultaneously in 1999 claim that vouchers increase racial integration in private schools. However, closer examination reveals a different picture. For example, the Cleveland study claims that voucher students are more likely than public school students to attend a school whose racial composition is representative of the community-at-large. However, the authors base this claim on an apples-to-oranges comparison of Cleveland metropolitan data-which includes suburban schools-with the Cleveland district, where the voucher program is in effect. Using the relevant apples-to-apples comparison of Cleveland city school data and utilizing the guidelines set up under the desegregation order, Cleveland public school students are about four times more likely to attend integrated schools than voucher students.43
  • School choice programs can lead to "creaming off the top"-both by parents with greater access to choice options and by schools that select their student population. A substantial number of studies finds that those who participate in voucher programs are more educated and have higher socioeconomic status than those who don't.44 Even when restricted to low-income families-as is the case in Milwaukee-parents of participants were more educated than the control group.45

    This in turn exacerbates segregation, as choosers with higher socioeconomic status (SES) tend to choose schools with high SES populations. Because higher SES schools usually improve achievement (whether due to peer effects, teaching conditions, or curriculum is debated), those students may benefit, while the concentration of students in lower SES schools will increase.46

  • A similar creaming pattern was found in a recent study of the New York Metropolitan area, where school choice led to a large increase in racial segregation, primarily due to "white flight" to private schools or suburban public schools.47
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