Researchers Find School Voucher Program Helps Reduce Crime, Unplanned Pregnancies

Corey DeAngelis, left, and Patrick Wolf
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Corey DeAngelis, left, and Patrick Wolf

Researchers based at the University of Arkansas found last year that the country's oldest private school choice program, in Milwaukee, helped shape the character skills necessary for living a good life and contributing to society.

U of A professor Patrick Wolf recently took a deeper dive into the topic, using better data and stronger methods this time, and made new discoveries about the effects of a private school choice program on crime and out-of-wedlock births.

The Journal of Private Enterprise recently published his findings in an article titled, Private School Choice and Character: More Evidence from Milwaukee. Wolf co-authored the article with Corey DeAngelis, an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute who received his doctorate from the U of A Department of Education Reform in 2018. Wolf is a Distinguished Professor of Education Policy and 21st Century Endowed Chair in School Choice in the College of Education and Health Professions.

Wolf said their research indicated that low-income students who attended a private high school of their parent's choosing, through the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, were less likely to be convicted of certain crimes or cause an out-of-wedlock birth as young adults compared to carefully matched students who attended public high schools in Milwaukee.

The statistically significant effects of the school choice program included a reduction in drug convictions of 53%, a decrease in property damage crimes of 86% and a reduction in paternity suits of 38% for adults age 25-28, he said.

"The most important factors for future success for urban youth are avoiding contact with the criminal justice system and unplanned pregnancies," Wolf said. "The nation's oldest urban school choice program, in Milwaukee, demonstrates that at-risk youth are less likely to put themselves in those difficult situations if they had the opportunity to attend a private high school chosen by their parents."

The article garnered a flurry of social media shares, an unsigned editorial in the Wall Street Journal and an opinion piece by Robert Pondiscio, senior fellow and vice president for external affairs at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

To hear more about school choice, Wolf and DeAngelis will be panelists for an online book release event, School Choice Myths: Setting the Record Straight on Education Freedom, on Oct. 7.

Wolf is principal investigator of the School Choice Demonstration Project and has led longitudinal evaluations of school voucher programs in Washington, D.C.; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and the state of Louisiana. Research projects led or co-led by Wolf have been awarded 35 research grants and contracts totaling nearly $23 million. He has authored, co-authored, edited, or co-edited five books and almost 200 journal articles, book chapters, book reviews, and policy reports on private school choice, public charter schools, civic values, special education, public management, and campaign finance.


Shannon G. Magsam, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions


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