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A Think Twice Review of:

Review: Ripple Effect: How Expanding School Choice Programs Can Lead to More College Graduates and a Stronger Economy

Think Twice - Mar 10, 2020

Publisher/Think Tank - Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL)


The report presumes a causal chain of: raising the voucher cap from four percent to 20% → more voucher students in K-12 schools → higher graduation rates from college → higher lifetime earnings → more consumer spending → increased state and local taxes collected. The resulting benefits to Wisconsin are asserted to be $3.2 billion over 20 years. The final three steps are based on solid research, although the specific numbers are in some dispute. That is, when students graduate from college, they will have higher average incomes and will spend more, and pay more taxes, over their lifetimes. The numbers get complicated, however, when we start to consider factors like job market opportunities that can accommodate the increased percentage of college graduates.

Reviewer(s) - William J. Mathis, University of Colorado Boulder

The real problem with the analysis, however, lies in the first two steps. As Mathis explains, these steps are highly speculative and are based on very skimpy evidence. First, raising voucher cap may not drive much of an increase in voucher students, since less than one percent of Wisconsin’s districts currently reach the four percent voucher cap. That is, there appears to be very little demand-side need for the voucher growth initiative. Even more troubling is the report’s reliance on one problematic study for its key argument that voucher use leads to a specific determined increase in graduation rates from four-year colleges (a 38% increase).