The latest report on academic performance in the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship program devotes historic attention to evaluating the students who enter and, later, leave. This is the first time this subset has been thoughtfully and empirically analyzed to determine who these students are, why they leave and how they perform once they return to public schools. The researcher’s findings lend credible support to common sense: students who struggle seek other options.
The reasons that students transfer schools and how they perform can be overstated by supporters and opponents of the scholarship program alike. It is important to clarify the contradictory claims in this debate as more than 60,000 students enter the scholarship program this fall. The report, written under contract with the state by respected Northwestern University researcher David Figlio, faults neither the public schools nor the private schools, and simply asserts that students seek new schools because their prior option didn’t work for them.
For example, Figlio reports that for six consecutive years the students entering the scholarship program “tend to be the lowest performing students in their prior (public) school” and this is a “trend that is growing stronger over time.” This is not to say the public schools as an institution are failing low-income students, but more likely that the particular public school didn’t meet the unique learning needs of the child who chose the scholarship. Parents are seeing their child struggle and they are using scholarships to pursue new options.
The same could also be true for students who return to public schools.