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Choice Evidence

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Indianapolis public school children who have used privately financed vouchers to enroll in private schools eventually outperformed those who stayed in public schools, according to a new study from the Hudson Institute, a conservative organization known for its support of vouchers and other forms of educational choice.

The Educational Choice Charitable Trust, established in 1991 by a prominent Indianapolis businessman, provides grants of up to $800 to low-income families to cover half the cost of private school tuition. It was the first of 20 or so such programs nationwide that tap into private funds to help a limited number of poor children attend private schools.

The Indianapolis-based Hudson Institute, with help from researchers at Butler University, has studied the choice trust since its inception. For their report, researchers David Weinschrott and Sally Kilgore relied on parent surveys and an analysis of a handful of private schools taking part in the voucher program that use the same testing instruments as the Indianapolis public schools.

"Although transferring students lose some ground in the early grades," the report states, "they soon begin to emulate the steady upward progress of students who were in private schools all along."

The researchers found that while public school students showed a drop-off in scores in reading, math, and language in 6th and 8th grades, the voucher students in the seven Roman Catholic schools they studied showed no such decline. Reading scores of the transfer students did slip between 2nd and 3rd grades, but the scores of 6th and 8th graders reflected an upward trend similar to that for other private school students, the report says.

What's more, nearly half the parents involved in the program gave their children's schools an A during their first year.

Timothy Ehrgott, executive director of the choice trust, says the results "confirm a lot of things we have been told by parents over time. If the schools were not doing a good job, these people would not be struggling to pay half the tuition." According to Ehrgott, the program currently serves 1,050 children in 67 private schools. The choice trust--which has an annual budget of $700,000--got its start with a $1.2 million donation from J. Patrick Rooney, chairman of the Golden Rule Insurance Co.

Dan Clark, a spokesman for the Indiana State Teachers Association, believes the Hudson report should be viewed skeptically. "They are attempting to construct evidence to support their preconceived notion that using tax dollars for private education is the way to fix our schools," he says.

Copies of Educational Choice Charitable Trust: An Experiment in School Choice are available for $1 each from the Hudson Institute, P.O. Box 26-919, Indianapolis, IN 46226.

--Mark Walsh

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