School Vouchers and Student Neighborhoods: Evidence from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

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In this paper we explore the relationship between students’ residential location and participation in Milwaukee’s large, widely available private school voucher program. We are interested in one overarching question: do voucher schools disproportionately draw students from better public schools and city neighborhoods, or do they draw students most in need of alternative options? We consider whether the public schools attended by students in neighborhoods contributing large numbers of students to the voucher program are more or less effective than those attended by students in neighborhoods with fewer voucher students. We also consider whether voucher students are located in city neighborhoods that directly contribute more or less to student outcomes. We find consistent evidence that neighborhoods whose students attend less effective public schools and neighborhoods with lower academic outcomes contribute disproportionately to the voucher program. This evidence is quite consistent with patterns apparent on Census-based observational measures of neighborhood socioeconomic characteristics: higher rates of voucher use are found in the least advantaged neighborhoods. We also find, however, that disadvantaged students in general are those most likely to leave the voucher program after enrolling.


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How to Cite
Carlson, D. E., & Cowen, J. M. (2015). School Vouchers and Student Neighborhoods: Evidence from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 23, 60.
Author Biographies

Deven E. Carlson, Assistant Professor University of Oklahoma

Deven Carlson is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma. His research interests include education policy, housing policy, and the intersection of the two. His recent work has been published in Sociology of Education, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, and Policy Studies Journal. 

Joshua M. Cowen, Associate Professor of Education Policy Michigan State University

Joshua Cowen is associate professor of education policy in the College of Education at Michigan State University. He is currently serving as Associate Editor of Education Finance and Policy and will become Co-Editor of Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis in July 2015. He has published extensively on school choice, teacher quality, and the implementation of education reforms. His recent work has appeared in the American Educational Research Journal, Economics of Education, Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, Educational Researcher, Sociology of Education, and Teachers College Record