Ten years after the start of the nation’s first publicly funded voucher program in Milwaukee, there are no clear cut research findings to support assertions that vouchers “improve” education and student achievement. In fact, there is very limited meaningful data to be found on existing publicly funded programs. Of the three publicly funded voucher programs in the United States, only Cleveland’s has maintained an on-going, state-commissioned evaluation program. The Wisconsin legislature ended state evaluation of the Milwaukee program in 1995 and the Florida legislature has not provided for evaluation of its voucher program. Additionally, none of the private schools in Milwaukee or Florida that receive public money through vouchers are required to test students or report test scores.
Many of the purported findings that do exist on the educational value of voucher programs have been obscured by rhetoric. As one pro-voucher educational consultant in Milwaukee noted in the Wall Street Journal, “Findings are irrelevant unless they make headlines…Headlines and spin are everything.”1
Insofar as research on voucher programs does exist, attention has largely focused on the impact on student test scores.2 The following is a brief synopsis of the research findings from studies of publicly funded voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Florida and some privately funded voucher programs and recent research examining the impact, if any, of vouchers on public school test scores in Florida.