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A new study suggests that school vouchers could actually hurt organized religion

The National Bureau of Economic Research conducted a study of Wisconsin Catholic schools that accept vouchers


Matthew Rozsa
February 16, 2017 3:15AM (UTC)

Although school vouchers may be a boondoggle to churches, a new study from The National Bureau of Economic Research finds that "they offer financial stability for congregations while at the same time diminishing their religious activities."

The National Bureau of Economic Research found that more than 80 percent of private school students in the 2011/2012 school year attended a religiously-affiliated school, with Catholicism being the most common religious affiliation. The authors studied 71 Catholic parishes in Milwaukee from 1999 to 2013.

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"We find that expansion in voucher policy is, unsurprisingly, associated with increases in voucher revenues for parishes with schools," the study stated. "We also find that voucher expansion prevents parish closures and mergers."

At the same time, the authors seemed surprised to discover that vouchers do not subsidize religious activity beyond the operation of religious schools. Rather, the opposite occurred. "Vouchers cause a significant decrease in spending on non-school religious purposes such as religious staff salaries, mission support, and church maintenance. We also find that voucher programs lead to a significant decrease in church donations," the study continued.

Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on whether one believes that religious institutions should focus on religion or on making money by supplanting public schools. "The meteoric growth of vouchers could provide financial stability for congregations while at the same time diminishing their religious activities."

"Our numbers suggest that, within our sample alone, the Milwaukee voucher program has led over time to a decline in non-educational church revenue of $60 million. These large effects are driven by the large size of the voucher program itself," the authors wrote.

These findings are particularly relevant given that President Donald Trump's new secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, is best known for her backing of school vouchers.


Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a breaking news writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

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