Tax Credit Scholarships for Low-Income Florida Students to Attend Private Schools Improve Performance at Nearby Public Schools

Education Next News


Naush Boghossian, (818) 209-2787 – Larson Communications
David Figlio, (847) 467-1503 – Northwestern University

Private school scholarship program leads to immediate and pronounced achievement improvements at neighborhood public schools, with elementary and middle schools most responsive

Cambridge, MA — A new study that examines the impact of the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program (FTC)—the nation’s largest private school scholarship program—finds the program has a marked positive effect on the academic performance of students who remain in public schools. The report is available on the web at

In “Does Competition Improve Public Schools?,” co-authors David Figlio and Cassandra M.D. Hart of Northwestern University, analyzed seven years of Florida test score data and found that scores on state math and reading tests rose following the introduction of the FTC program.  In addition, the positive effects of private school competition grew stronger over time, perhaps resulting from increased knowledge of the program and cumulative resource effects.

For every 1.1 miles closer a public school was to the nearest private school, its students’ math and reading scores increased by 1.5 percent of a standard deviation in just the first year alone of the scholarship program.   If as many as 12 additional private schools were close to a public school, the public school test scores rose by almost 3 percent of a standard deviation, roughly equivalent to an additional one month of learning for the average student.

“The threat of losing students—and state funding based upon enrollment—to private schools may give public schools greater incentive to cultivate parental satisfaction by operating more efficiently and  improving outcomes for students,” Hart said. “We saw the biggest impact on public schools that served a disproportionately large number of low-income students, probably because the scholarships were available only to students from low-income families.

The FTC, signed into law in 2001, provides corporations with tax credits for donations they make to scholarship-funding organizations, allowing the corporations to receive dollar-for-dollar tax credits for up to 75 percent of their total tax obligation each year. Florida’s program is set to expand in the coming years.

“An increase in the variety of private schools (religious and secular) also has a positive effect on the performance of students remaining in public schools,” Figlio said.

Scholarship programs similar to Florida’s now operate in several states, including Arizona, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Indiana, and are being considered in Maryland and New Jersey.

It is estimated that more than 100,000 students nationwide attended private schools through tax credit programs in 2009.

The analysis uses Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT) test-score data from the 1999-2000 school year through the 2006-07 school year. Researchers looked at the test score performance of 92 percent of the public school students who attended schools in Florida with a private competitor within a five-mile radius.

About the Authors

David Figlio is professor of education, social policy and economics at Northwestern University and research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Cassandra M.D. Hart is a doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Social Policy at Northwestern University.

About Education Next

Education Next is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution, and online by Harvard University, that is committed to looking at hard facts about school reform. Other sponsoring institutions are the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance and the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. The journal’s website is

Last Updated


Notify Me When Education Next

Posts a Big Story

Business + Editorial Office

Program on Education Policy and Governance
Harvard Kennedy School
79 JFK Street, Cambridge, MA 02138
Phone (617) 496-5488
Fax (617) 496-4428

For subscription service to the printed journal
Phone (617) 496-5488

Copyright © 2024 President & Fellows of Harvard College