Gruber and Dynarski report in a recent NBER Working Paper:
The effect of vouchers on sorting between private and public schools depends upon the price elasticity of demand for private schooling.
We exploit a unique and previously undocumented source of variation in private school tuition to estimate this key parameter. A majority of Catholic elementary schools offer discounts to families that enroll more than one child in the school in a given year.
We find that a standard deviation decrease in tuition prices increases the probability that a family will send its children to private school by one half percentage point, which translates into an elasticity of Catholic school attendance with respect to tuition costs of -0.19. Our subgroup results suggest that a voucher program would disproportionately induce into private schools those who, along observable dimensions, are unlike those who currently attend private school.
I’ll blog another time about private v. public schooling. What is interesting to me is that they find the demand to be so highly inelastic at Catholic schools. Either people choose them or not, with less regard for the price. I wonder how that behavior would change if the several thousand dollar per year fixed cost of attendance were eliminated? What is more interesting is why anyone cares who takes advantage of voucher programs – or even if this result is surprising. So what if new Catholic school attendees are different than the existing enrollees? Or, should it be surprising that the new enrollees are different than those that now choose to forego “free” public schools for either religious or political reasons?
But this issue is yet another reason that I am not much of a practicing Catholic anymore. How come the Catholic community is not the most vehement opponent of publicly run and funded schools in America? I bet if you polled the Catholics (whom I suspect are politically more liberal than non-Catholics – can we see this in GSS data?), a vast majority would support the idea of public schooling. Aside from whatever theological and institutional issues I have with being a Catholic, unless that position changed dramatically, I will never voluntarily walk into a church to worship again, even if every other thing I was concerned with changed.