A new study uses twenty-five years of data on the Milwaukee voucher program to examine the extent to which factors like school newness, institutional affiliation, market share, and regulatory environment put voucher schools at risk of failure.
Examining data for every private school that participated in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) between years 1991 and 2015, analysts find that 41 percent of the 247 schools that participated for at least one year failed—meaning that they were terminated via regulatory action or else voluntarily shut their doors. Another 11 percent either merged with another school or converted to a charter school. The analysis includes information on both the likelihood of leaving the program and the risk of failing.
Start-up voucher schools and those unaffiliated with a religious institution have comparatively higher risks of failure over time. Simply being a start-up increases the risk of failure by 332 percent, and the risk of leaving MPCP for any reason increases it by about 218 percent. (The average time to reach failure for a failed start-up is 4.3 years, compared to 8.7 for existing schools.) On average, start-up MPCP schools enroll 90 percent of their students via vouchers.
Having a religious affiliation, however, reduces the risk of failure (Lutheran affiliation, for example, reduces the risk of failure by about 67 percent). Market share also matters, as schools are less prone to fail if they increase their enrollment numbers. Analysts also find evidence that some regulation—specifically a cap on enrollment—increases the likelihood that a school would leave the voucher program but not fail. They speculate that some schools chose to convert to charter status as opposed to having their enrollments capped.
These data on start-ups—which make up 80 percent of the failures—are sobering, especially for secular schools. Analysts remark that schools likely benefit from the “corresponding institutional supports and social capital that flow from an archdiocese or religious order.”
Opening schools is an inherently risky business, as is closing them (though we saw positive results in our home state of Ohio). But the risk is worth taking, especially in places where traditional schools stink.
SOURCE: Michael R. Ford and Fredrik O. Andersson, "Determinants of Organizational Failure in the Milwaukee School Voucher Program," Policy Studies Journal (May 2016).