Figlio: A Leading Voice on Vouchers

Figlio: A Leading Voice on Vouchers

David FiglioJournalists looking for rigorous studies on vouchers and tax credit scholarship programs are citing the work and expertise of Northwestern University economist David Figlio, a national expert on school vouchers and their effects.

Figlio, the Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy and director of Northwestern’s Institute for Policy Research (IPR), has studied one of the nation’s largest and most expansive school voucher programs, the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program, which started under then-Governor Jeb Bush in 2002.

Figlio also has evaluated Ohio’s Educational Choice Scholarship (EdChoice) Program, where the state provides publicly funded vouchers to more than 18,000 students who previously attended some of the state’s lowest-performing schools.

His study with Krzysztof Karbownik, IPR research associate, revealed that students who used EdChoice vouchers to attend private schools fared worse on state exams relative to their public-school peers. The program also seems to have modestly improved achievement for voucher-eligible students who remained in public schools.

 Using Florida data, Figlio and School of Education and Social Policy alumna Cassandra Hart (PhD '11) of the University of California-Davis found that increased access to private schools through the use of vouchers put more competitive pressure on public schools, leading to modest improvements in public student test scores. 

A previous study, with Hart and School of Education and Social Policy alumna Molly Metzger (PhD '12) of Washington University in St. Louis, documented which students left public schools for private schools under Florida's voucher program. Contrary to many fears, Figlio’s research team found that vouchers attracted lower-performing students from poorly performing schools, rather than the highest achievers.

 At this point, Figlio cautions that the evidence for voucher programs improving public education is modest—“not revolutionary”—and that more research is needed, especially on larger programs.

He recently presented his research on school voucher programs in Ohio and Florida during a forum at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, D.C.

Figlio’s recent voucher coverage:

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 7/20/17