Nation’s Longest-Running School Voucher Program Making the Grade

Posted on March 27, 2009 In Blog

As advocates of constitutionally permissible aid to empower parents to choose the best education for their children, we at the Orthodox Union are very pleased to see that the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) continues to benefit its participants as well as the parents and children of the Milwaukee Public Schools.

The Alliance for School Choice reports

Students in Milwaukee’s school voucher program are getting an equal or better education at half the cost of local public schools, according to a major report released yesterday. The report also validated that the nation’s longest-running private school choice program improves public school performance and boosts achievement for participating students.

Conducted by researchers at the University of Arkansas as part of the independent School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP), the report found that students in the program generally posted achievement gains that were somewhat higher than that of students in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). When compared to children in MPS, students enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program experienced statistically significant gains in 7th and 8th grade math.

At the same time, the report concluded that the MPCP continues to save Wisconsin taxpayers tens of millions of dollars a year. For FY 2009 alone, the state saved $37 million as a result of the voucher program. While the report is focused on state sources of funding, when federal sources of funding are included, it costs $13,468 to educate an MPS child, versus a maximum of $6,607 to educate an MPCP student.

In a significant finding that undercuts the main arguments of school choice detractors, the study demonstrated conclusively that the presence of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) helped local public schools improve. In the words of the authors: “It appears that Milwaukee Public Schools are more attentive to the academic needs of students when those students have more opportunities to leave those schools.”

Patrick Wolf, leading researcher for the School Choice Demonstration Project, remarked that the program “has produced a rising tide that has lifted all boats.”

The report also demonstrated that providing choices leads to smart decision-making among parents. According to the SCDP’s findings, MPCP and MPS parents have a good understanding of their options and parents seek schools with a strong reputation and focus on college preparation.

Launched in 1990, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program is the nation’s longest-running private school choice program. Designed specifically to provide school choices to low-income families, the program assists more than 19,000 students this school year.

Nationwide, there are 18 school choice programs operating in 10 states and the District of Columbia, serving 171,000 children.