Media Advisory: Milwaukee Parental Choice Program Under Attack

Published January 22, 2008

(Chicago, Illinois – January 22, 2008) — Wisconsin state Rep. Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) is pushing a proposal to oust 7,000 students from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP)–the nation’s oldest and most successful school voucher program.

In a January 7 memorandum to legislative colleagues, Kessler said the purpose of his idea was to decrease enrollment in the voucher program by 40 percent. He says the MPCP has created a “funding inequity” in Milwaukee that could be alleviated by kicking students out of the program and returning the subsequent “savings” to Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).

According to an analysis by School Choice Wisconsin, Kessler is calling for:

1) All teachers in schools of choice to hold bachelor’s degrees from accredited colleges or universities. A bill passed in 2005 to lift the cap on enrollment in the MPCP imposed independent accreditation requirements on all participating schools.

2) All voucher recipients to take the same tests as MPS students, with the results “given to MPS for publication.” The 2005 measure requires all MPCP schools to “administer a recognized test of their choosing” to measure student proficiency and allows for independent research that will produce reliable comparisons between MPCP and MPS students using MPS tests.

3) Parents applying for vouchers to submit tax returns as proof of eligibility. This requirement is already met by the MPCP.

4) Voucher payments not to exceed tuition charged to non-voucher students. Under current law, the maximum voucher payment is $6,501 per child. Schools that spend less per pupil receive less money. MPS spends $11,000 per pupil.

5) Schools of choice to admit special-needs siblings of students already enrolled. Schools participating in the MPCP already are prohibited from discriminating against special-needs students. The only information private schools can use to determine voucher eligibility is household income and residency.

Experts contacted by The Heartland Institute offered the following comments about Kessler’s proposal. You may quote from this statement or contact the experts directly at the phone numbers and email addresses provided below.

“Wisconsin state Rep. Fred Kessler’s (D-Milwaukee) support of legislation to throw thousands of students out of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program is simply a bad decision. MPCP is a beacon of opportunity for low-income and working-class families eager to enroll their children in a school of their choice.

“Having lived and worked in Milwaukee from 2004 to 2006, I know firsthand how important MPCP is to the city of Milwaukee, its economy, and its future. Any attempt to undermine the aspirations of the urban poor in order to appease the political appetite of the comfortable is not the type of progressive thinking that makes sense.”

Gerard Robinson
Black Alliance for Educational Options
[email protected]
202/429-2236, ext. 11

“This is fiscal irresponsibility. Wisconsin legislators already know that implementing a piece of sham legislation such as this will only increase the state’s education costs: The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program educates children for $6,500 apiece, while Milwaukee Public Schools does so at a price of $11,000 apiece.

“Eliminating 7,000 children from the MPCP would increase education costs by $77 million. The state has far more to gain by allowing more children into the program than by kicking them out.”

Karla Dial
Managing Editor
School Reform News
[email protected]

“It is widely known that the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program already meets the requirements Rep. Kessler is demanding, as School Choice Wisconsin has documented. One wonders at the motives of Rep. Kessler in raising this straw man.”

Susan Mitchell
School Choice Wisconsin
[email protected]

Background Information

The following additional information may be useful to journalists and elected officials as they consider Wisconsin state Rep. Fred Kessler challenge to the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

“Milwaukee School Choice Spurs Investment,” by Mike Ford, School Reform News, December 2005

“The Ugly Politics of Parental Choice Opponents,” by George Mitchell, Wisconsin Interest, April 2005

“Doyle Cancels Voucher Meeting,” by Alan J. Borsuk, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, January 14, 2008

“Attack on Milwaukee Voucher Research Comes Up Short,” by George A. Clowes, School Reform News, January 2005

“The Politics of Choice: Where Are School Choice’s Friends?” by Charles J. Sykes, Wisconsin Interest, April 2004

“If There, Why Not Here?” Bill Steigerwald, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 12, 2008

School Choice by the Numbers: The Fiscal Effect of School Choice Programs, 1990-2006, by Susan L. Aud, Ph.D., Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation, April 2007

For more information about The Heartland Institute, please contact Harriette Johnson, media relations manager, at [email protected] or 312/377-4000.