NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Milwaukee Voucher Plan Results

August 13, 1996

Elementary school pupils in Milwaukee who participated in the nation's first school voucher program scored higher in reading and math than students who stayed in public schools, according to a new study.

Researchers from Harvard University and the University of Houston compared the progress of 1,034 students using vouchers in the first four years of the program with 407 low-income students who applied, but were turned down for lack of space.

  • Voucher students in their third year scored an average of 3 percentage points higher on standardized reading tests and 5 points higher on math tests.
  • During their fourth year, the voucher students scored 11 percentage points higher on math and nearly 5 points higher in reading.
  • However, two years into the voucher program there had been no significant differences in scores between the two groups of youngsters.
  • The researchers conclude that while progress cannot be demonstrated overnight, voucher schools can and do eventually vindicate the confidence their supporters had in them originally.

In 1990 Milwaukee became the first city in the nation to provide tax-free tuition vouchers -- worth $3,600 in the 1995-96 school year -- for low-income children to attend private, secular schools. Ninety-seven percent of the students were black or Hispanic. In 1995, the Wisconsin legislature approved Gov. Tommy G. Thompson's expansion of the voucher program to include religious schools.

Thompson's plan to expand the program was put on hold until its constitutionality can be determined.

Source: Associated Press, "Study Shows Voucher Pupils Thriving in Private Schools," New York Times, August 13, 1996.


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