Vouchers Increase Racial Segregation in Schools

A new study of voter intentions in California has found that universal voucher schemes are likely to increase racial and ethnic segregation across schools. White families tend to use vouchers to leave schools with a high proportion of non-white students.

The study found that non-white concentration in schools has a relatively substantial effect on the propensity of white households with children to support school vouchers. A 10 percentage point increase in the share of non-white students is predicted to increase support for the voucher among white households with children in public school by approximately 2.6 percentage points.

This effect is absent in non-white households. Non-white households appear less likely to support school vouchers if their children attend schools with higher concentrations of nonwhites. Taken together, the two effects indicate that universal vouchers lead to more segregated public schools.

The segregation effect is most pronounced in schools with higher proportions of students who are Hispanic. This is not surprising given the high proportion of Hispanic students in California. Further detailed analysis showed that the ‘white flight’ intention was largely driven by the share of Hispanic students in schools who have limited English proficiency.

The new study used data on votes in a state-wide universal voucher initiative in California as an indication of voter intentions to use the voucher. This contrasts with other studies of school segregation which have used data from existing forms of school choice programs. It measured the extent to which vouchers will increase racial and ethnic segregation beyond current levels.

The study published in the latest issue of the Review of Economics and Statistics is consistent with other studies of the impact of school choice on racial segregation in schools. The weight of evidence is that school choice leads to more segregated schools.

Other studies show that the racial composition of a school is a large determinant of the black/Hispanic-white gaps in student performance. Black and Hispanic students tend to achieve substantially better when they are in racially mixed environments. Thus, ‘white flight’ from racially-mixed schools is likely to increase inequity in education outcomes.

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