U of A Research Suggests Education Savings Account Could Reduce Crime

January 4, 2017

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

University of Arkansas researchers found that an education savings account program in Texas could reduce crime, according to a paper published in late December by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the Social Science Research Network.

Decision-makers in Texas have proposed an education savings account that would allow all families to take a fraction of their public education financing to a school of their choice, said authors Corey DeAngelis and Patrick Wolf. If the savings account funding amount exceeds the school tuition level, families would be able to use these funds for other educational expenses such as tutoring, textbooks, educational therapy, online learning, and college costs.

DeAngelis is a student in the education policy doctoral program who is a Distinguished Doctoral Fellow. Wolf is holder of the Twenty-First Century Chair in School Choice in the Department of Education Reform. They wanted to investigate the possible impact on society overall of the proposal. They used results from a study they conducted earlier this year on the effect of the Milwaukee voucher program on crime in that city.

"We estimate the impact of the proposed ESA on criminality from 2016 to 2035," the authors explained. "We use crime reduction estimates from our previous study of the impact of the longest-standing private school voucher program in the United States, along with existing estimates of the social costs of misdemeanors and felonies, in order to monetize and forecast impacts for the ESA in Texas."

In the Milwaukee study, DeAngelis and Wolf matched 1,089 Milwaukee students who used the vouchers to attend private school with 1,089 similar public school students on the basis of grade, race, gender, English language learner status, baseline math and reading test scores and neighborhood. Then, they searched a comprehensive Wisconsin database of criminal records for each of the 2,178 students, when they were between 22 and 25 years old. The researchers found attending a private school through participation in the Milwaukee voucher program was associated with a 79 percent reduction in the likelihood that a given student would commit any felonies and a 66 percent reduction in the likelihood that a student would commit any misdemeanors.

DeAngelis and Wolf applied these findings to estimates of how many students in Texas would use the education savings accounts to attend private schools. They found that a universally accessible education savings account could have large benefits to the state of Texas through reduced crime over the first 20 years of the program.

"Specifically, we estimate that the first cohort of high school students to experience four years of a universal ESA program in Texas would produce 749 fewer felonies and misdemeanors by the time they become 22 years old, resulting in about $7 million in benefits to society by 2025," they said. "The cumulative social benefits would amount to $74 million by the end of 2030 and $194 million by the end of 2035."

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