Thursday, April 17, 2003

Voucher students even with others

Cleveland study tracked grades 1-3

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND - A recent study shows no difference academically between public school students and those who attended private schools with state-paid tuition vouchers.

The state-commissioned study released last week followed students from first grade through third grade. The study was performed from fall 1998 to spring 2001.

Voucher opponents and supporters agreed that most of the Indiana University findings were not statistically significant enough to draw sweeping conclusions about the Cleveland program that began in 1996.

"From an academic perspective, the results appear largely to be a distinction without a difference," said Columbus-based school choice advocate Thomas Needles, who served as former Gov. George Voinovich's top education aide.

The goal of Cleveland's voucher program was to give students an alternative to city schools with high failure rates. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that the program is constitutional.

The program allows parents to use public dollars to send their children to private schools. The Cleveland program gives more than 5,000 students up to $2,250 a year toward tuition.

The study said students who leave the voucher program tend to be among the lowest performing students. The question to be answered, possibly by later studies, is whether the students left by choice or were encouraged to leave.

Future studies will follow the same group of students through fourth and fifth grades.

The finding that there is no measurable difference in academic performance "tends to negate the selling point of the voucher program," said William Phillis, executive director of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy in School Funding. The group has won three Ohio Supreme Court rulings in five years that say public education is inadequately funded in the state.

The study found that black and poor students are underrepresented in the voucher program compared with their proportions in public schools.

White students from families with higher incomes apparently fill vacant slots in the program after poor students - who get vouchers through a lottery system, decide not to use their vouchers - the study suggests.

Needles said that studies often neglect to point out that, just by existing, the voucher program offers parents a choice they would not otherwise have.

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