FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — A University of Arkansas study shows one of the most in-depth looks at how school choice voucher programs affect students.

UA Distinguished Professor in the Department of Education Reform, Patrick J. Wolf, spent years studying school choice programs across the country, by looking at factors such as effects on test scores and how far a student takes their schooling. Overall, Wolf thinks the Freedom Account Vouchers in the Arkansas ‘LEARNS’ Act will boost educational success in the Natural State, but it does depend on how one measure success.

Wolf said students using school choice voucher programs were 21% more likely to graduate high school, but in terms of test scores, he said the results are mixed.

Since the positive results aren’t as consistent when it comes to improving test scores, Devin Tubbs, an Arkansas teacher and member of Arkansas Strong, wonders if tax dollars would be better off going to improve public school programs rather than funding private education.

“There’s so many with results that are either negative or just nothing, null and void, that it really seems like a waste of Arkansas taxpayer money to make this happen,” said Tubbs.

Wolf said how long kids stay in school is more predictive of long term success than test scores.

“There’s a much stronger positive record regarding the effects of private school choice on character outcomes, more kind of long term character outcomes that parents really care about. So high school graduation, college enrollment, college completion, it’s there that private school choice programs show consistent positive effects,” said Wolf.

Also, in states where families can use vouchers to afford private schools, Wolf said public schools are driven to improve programs to keep students, which will eventually raise test scores all around.

Tubbs said he’s most worried about smaller public schools losing funding when kids choose to leave the district. Wolf said it shouldn’t be a fear, since enrollment-based funding to public schools is based on previous years’ attendance, which gives districts time to adapt.

“A public school that’s losing enrollment gets a buffer, where it’s still being paid for some students who have left and that gives it an opportunity to retool and respond in ways that help it compete,” said Wolf.

Tubbs said he expects the Freedom Account Vouchers to only help students who are better off financially and not those living in poverty, since there are many additional costs to switching schools that’re not covered by the vouchers.

Wolf said he’s glad parents will have the option to send their kids to a school where they’ll learn best, and said we may see more charter schools pop up in our area.

You can read his full study here: Wolf, P.J., Kisida, B., Gutmann, B., Puma, M., Eissa, N.O., & Rizzo, L. (2013). School vouchers and student outcomes: Experimental evidence from Washington, DC. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 32(2), 246-270.