Don’t Cash that “Fact Check” Just Yet

The Associated Press continues its series of presidential “fact check” pieces today with a rundown on last night’s presidential debate. On the subject of education they write:

It’s unclear whether the four-year-old Washington [DC voucher] program is actually working. So far, the Education Department has found little if any difference in the test scores of kids who got vouchers to attend private school.

The implication here is that test scores are the only thing that matter in evaluating whether or not an education system is “working.” In reality, most people not only care how good something is, but also how much it costs. If we take cost into account, does the picture change?

According to the most recent report on the DC voucher program, to which the AP is alluding, the average tuition charged by voucher-accepting private schools is $5,928. As I reported in the Washington Post and fully documented on this blog, total per-pupil spending in DC public schools was $24,600 in the 2007-08 school year. Even if we allow for the fact that the typical private school receives something like 20 percent of its revenue from sources other than tuition, this is still rather a big difference. Public schools are spending more than three times as much to get about the same academic result. Meanwhile, as the DC voucher study notes, parents are a lot happier with their chosen voucher schools than the city’s public school parents are with their schools.

Parents are happier, and the program produces academic achievement at least as good as the district schools at less than one third their cost. For a nation in a bit of a financial bind, this seems to me like a program that’s working, even though it does have its faults and there are even better options.