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New Studies Reveal Pervasive Challenges to Expanded Opportunity Education Voucher Advocates Promise

Date Published: March 05, 2018
New data illuminates pervasive challenges among education voucher programs that significantly limit the extension of expanded educational opportunities touted by advocates of the programs and the Trump Administration. The data was presented at a Capitol Hill briefing hosted by the UCLA Civil Rights Project.


For Immediate Release
March 5, 2018 


New Studies Reveal Pervasive Challenges to Expanded Opportunity that 

Education Voucher Advocates Promise

Research shows admissions practices among private schools; widespread service and 

cost barriers limit choice; little help for students of color, disappointing academic results


Washington, D.C. – Today, at a Capitol Hill briefing hosted by the UCLA Civil Rights Project, a group of education and civil rights scholars from across the country revealed new data illuminating pervasive challenges among education voucher programs that significantly limit the extension of the expanded educational opportunities advocates of the programs and the Trump Administration tout. The data was presented by experts from the UCLA; University of Connecticut; University of Notre Dame; and a longtime expert on DC Public Schools. Scholars from other universities participated in the research.

Gary Orfield, distinguished research professor of education, law, political science, and urban planning and co-director of the UCLA Civil Rights Project, said, “The data clearly document the failure of voucher programs to equalize educational opportunity. The private school sector is overwhelmingly white and shrinking and the vouchers often put students of color in weak unregulated schools where they gain nothing academically. Civil rights standards are not being enforced.”

Expanding vouchers has been a leading goal of the current Administration, and a number of state governments and advocates have claimed that they would offer better opportunities to students of color. But, in fact, program capacity has been limited, the focus has often not stayed on the most disadvantaged students, most of the opportunities have been in religious schools and the academic results have been disappointing.

Scholars at the briefing suggested that policymakers consider increasing investments in other educational policies in public schools instead, such as early childhood education, continuing teacher training and professional development, and student funding for postsecondary education, which are more likely to provide greater educational opportunity for all students, especially students of color.

The new studies examine national private school capacity and  trends; the achievement outcomes and access for minority students under the Washington, D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), the nation’s only federally-funded voucher program; outcomes for students of color under the Indiana Choice Scholarship Program, one of the largest statewide voucher programs in the country, the factors that motivate private schools to participate; and the evolution of voucher case law, including academic quality and civil rights protections.

Some key findings include:


  • Private schools seem to compete with charter schools which are rapidly growing as the private sector shrinks. Since charters began in l991, the growth of charter schools is noticeable. In 2015, private schools serve 4.9 million students while charter schools enroll 2.7 million students.
  • In D.C. the constraints of affordability, transportation, needs for services, such as special education and ESL, and admissions requirements and practice limit the choice considerably. In SY 2011-12, the one year where DC’s OSP student enrollment by school is available, students are clustered in low-tuition, religiously affiliated schools in low-to-middle income neighborhoods. Very few are enrolled in the elite high-tuition schools in affluent neighborhoods attended by their wealthier peers.
  • Evaluations of the Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP) program found no significant effect on academic achievement, and showed some evidence of loss of achievement.
  • 70 percent of participating voucher students in the OSP were enrolled in severely segregated schools with 90 percent or more minority students and a full 58 percent were in all-minority schools.
  • To protect civil rights, a national study concluded that state voucher laws should include straightforward anti-discrimination provisions that require voucher-accepting private schools to avoid engaging in discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, sex, disability, or sexual orientation.
  • Broadened program eligibility requirements in Indiana changed demographics of participating students. In the first year (2011), 24 percent were African American, but this number declined to 12 percent in 2016–17. Conversely, the percentage of white students receiving vouchers increased from 46 percent in the first year to 60 percent in 2016–17. The shares of Latino students (20 percent) and multiracial students (6–7 percent) remained consistent over time.
  • The study of Indiana’s large and expanding program showed that though initially serving a substantial share of Black students that share dropped sharply as eligibility was expanded.
  • Unlike many programs Indiana tests all voucher students and the studies demonstrate that the students of all races have lost compared to similar public school students.

The four studies are:

More information about the briefing and studies is available here.


About the Civil Rights Project

The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles is co-directed by UCLA Professors Gary Orfield and Patricia Gándara. Founded in 1996 at Harvard University by Orfield and Christopher Edley, Jr., CRP’s mission is to create a new generation of research in social science and law on the critical issues of civil rights and equal opportunity for racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. CRP has commissioned more than 400 studies, published more than 15 books and issued numerous reports monitoring the success of American schools in equalizing opportunity and providing the authoritative source of segregation statistics. The U.S. Supreme Court, in its 2003 Grutter v. Bollinger decision upholding affirmative action, and in Justice Breyer’s dissent (joined by three other Justices) to its 2007 Parents Involved decision, cited the Civil Rights Project’s research.








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