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Study Proposes School Voucher Plan for 10,000 Low-Income Mass. Students

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New Study Proposes School Voucher Plan for 10,000 Low-Income Massachusetts Students

Program would offer vouchers of $6,000 to $8,000 at no net cost to taxpayers

BOSTON – In the wake of a North Carolina court ruling that school vouchers are constitutional, Pioneer Institute is releasing a new study demonstrating that at little or no cost to taxpayers, school vouchers serving low-income Massachusetts students would give poorer families the access to private and parochial schools that affluent parents already enjoy, improve educational outcomes for both students who choose a voucher and those who don’t, reduce school segregation and increase parental satisfaction.

The study comes on the heels of a fast expansion of school choice programs in the United States over the past decade. By this fall, 400,000 students will be educated under private school choice programs in 24 states and the District of Columbia. The programs include scholarship education tax credits, which work indirectly by providing a tax credit to a third party who donates money to fund a scholarship that is provided to parents; vouchers, which provide public funds to help parents pay private school tuition; and educational savings accounts, which operate like vouchers but also allow the money to be used for other educational expenses.

In “Modeling Urban Scholarship Vouchers in Massachusetts,” authors Dr. Ken Ardon and Dr. Cara Candal propose that school vouchers, worth $6,000 per year for grades K-8 and $8,000 for high school, be offered to 10,000 students with household incomes below 200 percent of federal poverty guidelines.

“Taxpayers would be held harmless because state aid to the school districts students come from would be reduced by the amount of the voucher,” said Dr. Ardon, Associate Professor of Econimics at Salem State University. “Since the amount of the voucher is less than the average per-pupil spending of about $12,000 per year, overall assistance to districts would be reduced, but per-pupil aid would increase.”

There is strong unmet demand for school choice in Massachusetts. The combined waitlists for charter public schools, vocational-technical schools and the Metropolitan Council for Educational Opportunity (METCO), under which Boston and Springfield students attend schools in surrounding districts, are 56,000 students. In Boston, the METCO waitlist is about five years long.

“Nine out of 10 high-quality studies of school voucher programs in seven cities have found improved test scores for at least some students,” said Cara Candal, Pioneer Senior Fellow. “And none of those studies found any negative impacts.”

One sign of the success of private school choice programs is that once established, states have almost always chosen to expand them.

Research indicates that students who don’t choose to access the voucher also benefit from the program because public school performance improves as a result of competition from private and parochial schools.

For the program Ardon and Candal propose, Massachusetts must repeal the two “Know-Nothing” amendments to the state constitution. These amendments, named after the anti-immigrant and nativist political movements that were behind them, block state money from going to private and parochial schools, and are an outgrowth of mid-19th century anti-Catholic bigotry in the commonwealth.

“Education is the realm of possibilities,” said University of Arkansas professor Patrick Wolf, the nation’s leading academic school voucher expert. “Ken Ardon and Cara Candal have painted a detailed picture of what might be possible in terms of private school choice for disadvantaged Massachusetts students.”

“Know-Nothings’ Nativism, Catholic Education and School Choice” will be the topic of a Pioneer Institute forum to be held from 8:30-10:35 a.m. on Friday, July 31 at the Metro Meeting Centers at 101 Federal St., 4th Floor, Boston, MA 02110. A keynote address will be delivered by Salem State University Professor Nancy Lusignan Schultz, author of Fire & Roses: The Burning of the Charlestown Convent, 1834. Dr. Candal will deliver a policy presentation on the findings of the research paper that she co-authored with Dr. Ardon. Viewers may watch the forum online via Livestream.

The event will also include a panel featuring former Ambassador to the Vatican and Boston Mayor, Raymond Flynn; Thomas Gosnell, President of the American Federation of Teachers-Massachusetts; and Kathleen Mears, Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Boston.

The forum is co-sponsored by the Parents Alliance for Catholic Education, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Harvard’s Program on Education Policy and Governance, and the Friedman Legacy Day 2015.

Dr. Nancy Lusignan Schultz is Professor of English at Salem State University. Her scholarship integrates literature, history, and religion, with expertise in the history of U.S. Catholicism and American literature. Schultz is the author of the award-winning Fire & Roses: The Burning of the Charlestown Convent, 1834.

Ambassador Raymond Flynn is a former three-term Mayor of Boston, U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, and the bestselling author of The Accidental Pope and John Paul II, A Personal Portrait of the Pope and the Man.

Thomas Gosnell is President of the American Federation of Teachers- Massachusetts (AFT-MA). Mr. Gosnell was Vice President of the Boston Teachers Union and a member of its Executive Board. He served as an at-large member of the AFT-MA Executive Board from 1982 until his election as Secretary-Treasurer in 1988. He is a former Latin teacher.

Kathleen Mears is Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Boston. Previously, she was the Executive Director for Elementary Education for the National Catholic Educational Association and Assistant Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Kathleen began her career as Principal of St. Roch Catholic School in Indianapolis.

About Pioneer

Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.