The Leaflet: Several New Studies Show Successes of Milwaukee’s School Voucher Program

Published August 2, 2019

The past three months have been great for school choice supporters, as a series of new studies show the educational and social benefits of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), the nation’s first school voucher program.

Enacted in 1990, MPCP now enrolls 30,000 students at 129 schools. To be eligible for the program, a student’s household income must not exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($77,250 for a family of four.) Each voucher has a value of $7,708— two-thirds the cost per student in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).

In June, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) released its third annual peer-reviewed study of school academic performance across the Badger State: Apples to Apples. According to the study, students at private schools in Wisconsin’s school choice programs are outperforming their peers in traditional public schools. In Milwaukee, MPCP schools had proficiency rates 4.65 percent higher in English language arts (ELA) and 3.95 percent in math, respectively, than MPS. Student growth, how much they increase their performance from one year to the next, was 7 percent higher in MPCP than MPS.

As in previous years, WILL finds Catholic and Lutheran schools are the main drivers in the proficiency advantage MPCP schools hold over MPS. MPCP Catholic schools were 8.9 percent more proficient in ELA and 4.1 percent higher in math than similar traditional public schools (TPS). Lutheran schools were 7.1 percent more proficient in math than TPS.

Reason Foundation study from May found Wisconsin private schools receive 27 percent less funding than TPS. However, they produce 2.27 more points on the state’s Accountability Report Cards for every $1,000 invested, making them 36 percent more cost-effective than TPS. Private schools in Milwaukee itself are 50 percent more cost effective.

In July, the Urban Institute released The Effects of Means-Tested Private School Choice Programs on College Enrollment and Graduation, which used MPCP as one of its study areas. This report found ninth-grade MPCP students were 7 percent more likely to enroll in college than their public school peers. Students starting MPCP in grades 3–8 were 11 percent more likely to enroll in college than their public school peers. The grade 3–8 MPCP students were also 38 percent more likely to graduate college than their public school peers.

Also in July, a peer-reviewed study published in Social Science Quarterly, “Private School Choice and Crime: Evidence From Milwaukee,” showed persistent, long-term participation in MPCP can lead to decreased criminal activity for Milwaukee children later in life. (Earlier research finds high school students participating in MPCP have lower levels of criminality than their MPS peers, and MPCP students are expected to generate almost $475 million in additional economic benefits “associated with higher graduation rates” from 2016 to 2035.)

These new studies, and many others, show MPCP and other education choice programs offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances. Legislators should use the upcoming 2020 legislative session to either expand these choice programs where they already exist and enact school choice programs where they don’t.  

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