Program Evaluation

Evaluation of Effects of the Learnfare Program, 1993-1996

A waiver of federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) regulations was required to allow the Learnfare program to operate. One of the conditions under which this waiver was granted was independent evaluation of the program. To meet the evaluation condition, federal officials required that a five-year effectiveness study be conducted and that it include:

  • random assignment of a research sample of Learnfare participants to either a treatment or a control group, where the treatment group would participate fully in the Learnfare program and the control group would not be subject to Learnfare requirements or eligible for Learnfare services; and
  • analysis of differences in outcome measures between the treatment and the control groups, including but not limited to school attendance and completion rates.

To complete this effectiveness study, the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services contracted with the Legislative Audit Bureau, a non-partisan legislative agency.

The Learnfare evaluation was designed to examine the effects of the Learnfare program upon four outcomes:

  • school enrollment;
  • attendance;
  • graduation from high school or completion of high school equivalency programs; and
  • receipt of public assistance.

In addition to determining the effects of Learnfare upon the AFDC teenage population as a whole, analyses were included to determine the program's effectiveness among different groups of teenagers:

  • teenage parents and teenagers without children;
  • teenagers who were and were not enrolled in school when introduced to Learnfare;
  • teenagers of different ages; and
  • teenagers within and outside Milwaukee County, which has approximately half of the statewide Learnfare population.

In order to compile an analysis data set, we collected data from three sources. First, we developed a form to collect baseline data at the time of random assignment. These data included most of the control variables used in the regression analysis, as well as the variables used to identify the different groups of teenagers for whom results were calculated. Second, we worked with staff in the Department to identify data that would be provided each month on a tape from the State’s automated public assistance data system. These data included information on AFDC eligibility and receipt, as well as on the Learnfare experience of teenagers in the treatment group. Finally, data on school enrollment, attendance, and completion were collected directly from school districts at the end of each semester.

In Fall 1994, the Learnfare program was extended on an experimental basis in four counties to children younger than 13; the effect of Learnfare Expansion on these younger children was the subject of a separate Audit Bureau study.

In 1997, the Legislative Audit Bureau received the Award for Excellence in Research Methodology for the Learnfare evaluation from the National Legislative Program Evaluation Society, a staff section of the National Conference on State Legislatures.

Audit Bureau Publications related to the Learnfare Evaluation include:

The linked files are in MS-Word format.

If you would like more information on the Learnfare Evaluation, if you would like to obtain copies of any of the above reports, or if you have questions about the Learnfare dataset that are not addressed by the materials available here, please contact the Legislative Audit Bureau.