The double-digit growth rate of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) will drop to zero within the next two years as participation in the program hits the cap imposed when MPCP was first expanded to include religious schools almost a decade ago. As a result, Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is preparing a plan to ration the available seats.
State legislators saw the crunch coming and tried to head it off, but their plans were thwarted last November when Governor Jim Doyle (D) vetoed a series of bills that would have freed the city’s voucher program and charter schools to continue their growth.
One of the vetoed bills would have eliminated MPCP’s enrollment cap, which limits the number of participants to 15 percent of the enrollment in the Milwaukee Public Schools, or about 15,000 students. DPI officials report 12,950 participants in the current school year, up more than 15 percent from the previous year. A similar percentage increase next year would put enrollment within 100 of the 15,000-student cap.
Provisions in other vetoed bills would have:
- opened the voucher program to private schools throughout Milwaukee County, not just within the city;
- allowed students to remain in the program even if their parents’ income grew to exceed the cut-off level;
- allowed students who live outside the city to attend charter schools in Milwaukee;
- directed the Legislative Audit Bureau to conduct an ongoing evaluation of the voucher program.
In his veto statement, Doyle said any changes to the voucher program should also address “serious concerns that have been raised about accountability.” Kole Kneuppel, principal of St. Marcus School, which enrolls voucher students, suggested to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that Doyle’s allegiance to the teacher union–which strongly opposes vouchers–had taken precedence over the children in the school choice program.
Sen. Jeff Plale (D-Milwaukee) is sponsoring legislation that would address Doyle’s accountability concerns and require schools that participate in MPCP to have sound fiscal practices and conduct criminal background checks on all employees. Plale’s bill, which has bipartisan support and the backing of a coalition of MPCP schools, also would clarify DPI’s authority when schools violate program rules.
George A. Clowes is managing editor of School Reform News. His email address is [email protected].