Indianapolis Study Documents Benefits of Vouchers

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Indianapolis public school children who 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.

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. The program 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 and, ultimately, to try to demonstrate the effectiveness of vouchers.

The Indianapolis-based Hudson Institute is a conservative policy organization known for its support of vouchers and other forms of educational choice. With researchers from Butler University, also located in the city, it has studied the choice trust since its inception.

In the report, Hudson researchers David J. Weinschrott and Sally B. Kilgore rely 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, they soon begin to emulate the steady upward progress of students who were in private schools all along," the researchers conclude.

The researchers compared seven Roman Catholic schools that administer a state achievement test on a schedule similar to that of the city's public schools. They 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 private schools showed no such decline.

Reading scores of the transfer students fell between 2nd and 3rd grades, but scores of 6th and 8th graders reflected an upward trend similar to that for other private school students, the study says.

Nearly half the parents involved in the program gave their children's schools an A during their first year, the study said.

Timothy Ehrgott, the executive director of the choice trust, said 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," he said.

Waiting List

Mr. Ehrgott said the program is serving 1,050 children in 67 private schools this year. The choice trust--which has an annual budget of $700,000--got its start with a $1.2 million donation from J. Patrick Rooney, the chairman of the Golden Rule Insurance Co.

Dan Clark, a spokesman for the Indiana State Teachers Association, said 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 said.

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, Ind. 46226.

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