Two researchers from the University of Arkansas, found that education savings accounts, a program currently being considered for implementation in Texas, could be a valuable tool in preventing crime.
Essentially, ESAs allow families to take a fraction of their public education funds, their tax dollars, to enroll their child in a school of their choice. If the amount that they are allotted exceeds the annual tuition, they can expense things such as tutoring, textbooks, educational therapy, and online education, or roll them over for higher education costs.
Corey DeAngelis and Patrick Wolf wanted to investigate the possible impact on society overall.
“We used crime reduction estimates from our previous study of the impact of the longest-standing private school voucher program in the United States [Milwaukee], 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 previous studies, they compared 1,089 Milwaukee private school students with the same number of public school students. Using the equal baselines for grade, race, gender, English language-learner status, plus baseline math and reading scores, they matched the 2,178 students with others in the same neighborhood. The researchers noted that baseline scores and neighborhoods carry significant weight because those who live in the same geographic area statistically have similar propensities to commit crimes.
Using the Wisconsin criminal records database, they searched the records of the students when they were between 22 and 25 years old. What they found was that those who used the Milwaukee school choice option were associated with a 79 percent reduction in the likelihood of a given student committing a felony, and 66 percent reduction in the likelihood of committing a misdemeanor.
When using the data to estimate the impact of implementing ESAs in Texas on crime, they found that – among the first group of high school students to attend four full years of school under the program – the state would see 749 fewer felonies and misdemeanors by the time that group reaches 22. They also estimated 3,283 fewer felonies by 2030, and 8,682 by 2035.
Setting the average cost of a prevented felony at $20,000 and $1,700 for misdemeanor, the estimated fiscal impact of the program would be roughly $7 million in benefits to society by 2025. The cumulative social benefits would be $74 million by the end of 2030, and $194 million by the end of 2035.
Although the numbers are based off of actual data and successes seen elsewhere, the impact on Texas is only an estimate. Regardless, we know that students who complete school – and continue on to higher education – have reduced odds of committing crimes because of the increased opportunities they have. Providing more options for those stuck in many of Texas’ failing inner-city schools reduces the need to turn to illicit behavior.
The report draws attention to Texas’ decreasing crime rates, but rightfully acknowledges that we’re still in the nation’s top 20 percent for property crimes per capita and 30 percent for violent crimes per capita.
Much of criminal justice reform is starting to focus on reducing recidivism and providing opportunities for reentry into society. But if we have the opportunity to proactively address this problem prior to incarceration through school choice programs, reforms such as ESAs should be thoroughly examined and embraced.