Vouchers, Public School Response, and the Role of Incentives: Evidence from Florida
48 Pages Posted: 9 Nov 2007
Date Written: October 2007
In this paper, I analyze the behavior of public schools facing vouchers. The literature on the effects of voucher programs on public schools typically focuses on student and mean school scores. This paper tries to go inside the black box to investigate some of the ways in which schools facing the threat of vouchers in Florida behaved. Under a 1999 program, Florida schools earning an "F" grade for the first time were exposed to the threat of vouchers, but did not face vouchers unless and until they got a second "F" within the next three years. Exploiting the institutional details of this program, I analyze the incentives built into the system and investigate the behavior of the public schools facing these incentives. I find strong evidence that they did respond to incentives. Using highly disaggregated school-level data, a difference-in-differences estimation strategy as well as a regression discontinuity analysis, I find that the threatened schools tended to focus more on students below the minimum criteria cutoffs rather than equally on all; interestingly, however, this improvement did not come at the expense of higher performing students. Second, consistent with incentives, the schools focused on writing rather than reading and math. These results are robust to controlling for differential pre-program trends, changes in demographic compositions, mean reversion, and sorting and have important policy implications.
Keywords: vouchers, incentives, regression discontinuity, mean reversion
JEL Classification: H4, I21, I28
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation