Housing vouchers, like other anti-poverty programs, increase test scores, NYC study shows

By Matt Barnum for chalkbeat.org

Housing vouchers boost the math and reading scores of New York City public school students, according to a new study — the latest evidence that anti-poverty programs help low-income students do better academically.

For a student at the 50th percentile of performance, getting a voucher would push them to the 52nd percentile in one year. It’s a small increase, but these benefits could add up over time, and are notable for an effort that isn’t about improving schools.

“Housing policy is education policy,” said Amy Ellen Schwartz, one of the researchers and a professor at Syracuse University. “We want to improve kids’ outcomes — sometimes what we’re going to have to do is look outside of the schoolhouse door and think about housing.”

The paper focuses on the federal housing program often referred to as Section 8, which helps low-income families pay rent. The authors were able to link data on those benefits between 2005 and 2011 to the school records of more than 30,000 students in grades three through eight. To isolate cause and effect, the authors looked at students’ test scores after their families received a voucher, and compared them to similar students whose families got a voucher later.

What explains the improvements? Some families moved. Receiving a voucher led families to live in buildings with fewer hazardous code violations and in areas with lower poverty rates after receiving the voucher; their children attended schools with higher test scores.

Read more here.

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