NEPC Review: The School Choice Voucher: A "Get Out of Jail" Card? (University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform, March 2016)
In a report, University of Arkansas researchers studied the relationship between school vouchers and crime. Using data from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), they compared crimes processed through the Wisconsin courts for program participants and a matched sample of public school students. Based on a series of comparisons, it finds that some groups of MPCP students are less likely to commit crimes as adults. This result is plausible: education and crime are often found to be negatively correlated and the MPCP has generated some, albeit modest and mixed, benefits. However, the study’s title should not imply that voucher programs are a "get-out-of-jail" card, and the evidence in the study is not causal. One concern is that the paper employs a matching method that omits some important factors that explain school choice and crime. Also, the results are highly variable, with most of the association between MPCP participation and measures of adult crime showing statistically insignificant results. Indeed, a valid interpretation of the paper is that vouchers and crime are not correlated. Conversely, for subgroups and estimation approaches that do yield statistically significant associations, the MPCP effects appear to be too extreme. Even assuming that vouchers do reduce adult crime, it remains unclear by what mechanisms vouchers might do so.