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James J. Feigenbaum

Sarah R. Cohodes, James J. Feigenbaum.

In the United States, people with more education vote more. But, we know little about why education increases political participation or whether higher-quality education increases civic participation. We study applicants to Boston charter schools, using school lotteries to estimate charter attendance impacts for academic and voting outcomes. First, we confirm large academic gains for students in the sample of charter schools and cohorts investigated here. Second, we find that charter attendance boosts voter participation. Voting in the first presidential election after a student turns 18 increased substantially, by six percentage points from a base of 35 percent. The voting effect is driven entirely by girls and there is no increase in voter registration. Rich data and the differential effects by gender enable exploration of multiple potential channels for the voting impact. We find evidence consistent with two mechanisms: charter schools increase voting by increasing students’ noncognitive skills and by politicizing families who participate in charter school education.

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