Milwaukee’s Idolatrous Voucher Bill

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Get out your ballots: the Thomas Fordham Foundation is hosting the first annual Education Reform Idol contest. The goal is to anoint the reformiest education leader among five candidates: Tony Bennett, Superintendent in Indiana; Peggy Lehner, Ohio State Senator; Patricia Levesque, Executive Director of Foundation for Florida’s Future; Ryan Murray, Policy Director of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s Office; and Robin M. Steans of Advance Illinois.

A New Jersey link: Wisconsin’s credentials as a contender are buttressed by its Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, which sounds an awful lot like our in utero Opportunity Scholarship Act. The Milwaukee program, according to Wisconsin DOE data, served 20,996 kids in Milwaukee in 2010 and included 102 private or parochial schools. Total Milwaukee public school enrollment is about about 82,000 kids. For the 2010-2011 school year the aid for each student attending a “choice” school was either $6,442 or the private school’s operating and debt service cost per student, whichever was less.

For this school year this voucher program will extend to 500 of Racine’s students.

Milwaukee’s public schools have long been plagued by out-of-line costs, which may account for some of the receptiveness towards non-traditional use of public school funds. A 2009 independent analysis, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “found waste in every area – inefficient payroll processing, overqualified maintenance teams, even pencil sharpeners that cost more than $100. The report also found more than five dozen central office jobs with six-figure salaries.”

A couple of differences between Wisconsin’s successful voucher program and our fledgling one: NJ’s version includes public schools as choices for families, and annual tuition is capped at between $6K and $9K, which is, respectively, 40% and 59% annual cost per pupil in traditional public schools. Of course, NJ’s proposed Opportunity Scholarship Act is aimed at many more than one struggling city. Perhaps there’s a lesson there for NJ from Milwaukee’s successful voucher system.

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  • kallikak, August 11, 2011 @ 4:21 pm Reply

    “…Wisconsin's successful voucher program…”

    Really? The attached data table suggests inferior standardized test results from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program:

    P.S. The OSA is aimed at all of us. It is a thinly-disguised attempt to establish a publicly-funded system of private and parochial schools to supplant existing public schools.

  • Julia, August 12, 2011 @ 9:16 pm Reply

    The Milwaukee Voucher Program was a failure, as every voucher program has been:

    p. 15-16:

    “• As noted in KRC’s 1998 report, the first “five legislatively mandated evaluations of the
    Milwaukee program found no achievement gains for voucher students.
    • As noted in KRC’s 1999 report, 1995 legislation terminated the official evaluation of the Milwaukee
    voucher program. The program now enrolls 20,000 students and cost $130 million in
    • As noted in KRC’s 1998 report p. 15-21, Harvard University’s Paul Peterson, a voucher
    advocate, and his team re-analyzed the state’s Milwaukee voucher evaluation and found
    that by the third and fourth year of attending a private school, voucher users outperformed
    the public school control group in reading and math. The researchers’ own tables showed a
    statistically significant result only in math and only in the fourth year. Moreover, their data
    showed that voucher students were a more advantaged group than the comparison students
    in public schools.3
    • A second re-analysis of the state’s Milwaukee voucher evaluation by Princeton University’s
    Cecilia Rouse found no effect from vouchers in reading and a small effect in math for voucher
    students who had remained in the program over the four-year period.4
    • A follow-up study by Rouse found that low-income students attending Milwaukee public
    schools served by a state class-size reduction and enrichment program significantly
    outperformed voucher students in reading and scored as well in math.5
    • In 2007, a fresh evaluation of the Milwaukee voucher program began. The evaluation team
    includes: Patrick Wolf, Endowed Chair in School Choice at the University of Arkansas; Jay
    Greene, a former co-author of voucher advocate Paul Peterson’s; and John Witte, the head of
    the earlier evaluation of the Milwaukee voucher program. After four years, the new Milwaukee
    evaluation program has found no achievement advantage for voucher students.
    • The summary of the new Milwaukee evaluation team’s fourth year reports concludes (p.
    8): “…to this point we have observed no significant effects of the MPCP on the rates of
    student gains in reading and math achievement.”6″

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