Choice Creates New Schools for Low-Income Families

Published May 1, 2003

Vouchers raise false hopes and expectations among low-income families, say voucher critics, who claim private schools don’t have the capacity to take extra voucher-bearing students. Critics also say any added capacity is unlikely to be in poor neighborhoods, where students are regarded as more difficult to educate.

A new study of school choice in Milwaukee shows both of those objections are unfounded.

Milwaukee’s school choice programs–not only vouchers but also charter schools and partnership schools–have encouraged a major private investment in several of the city’s high-poverty areas, according to a January 2003 report from the American Education Reform Council (AERC), called “Schools that Choice Built.” The report was developed from a survey of 133 schools, consisting of 106 voucher schools, 15 charter schools, and 12 private schools that have contracts with the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).

The survey found investments of nearly $100 million for building and renovating private schools in Milwaukee, with almost two-thirds in voucher schools. Significantly, most of the projects are in city neighborhoods where, according to 2000 Census data, half or more of the residents have an income below 175 percent of the federal poverty level.

“Many of the projects involve new and renovated schools in areas of high poverty,” said AERC President Susan Mitchell. “The projects help stabilize these neighborhoods and take tremendous fiscal pressure off the Milwaukee Public Schools and its taxpayers.”

Mitchell notes higher taxes would be needed if the students in these schools attended MPS. Last year, MPS estimated $70 million in new capital spending would be needed if the voucher program ended.

For more information …

The January 2003 report from the American Education Reform Council, “Schools that Choice Built,” is available at the Council’s Web site, together with a wide range of information about school choice in Wisconsin, at