NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

March 2, 2012

In what the Wall Street Journal labeled "The Year of School Choice," 2011 saw the continued growth of one of the country's most prominent systems of school choice.  The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

(MPCP) had already existed for several years before 2011 and was further expanded in that year to attempt to build on its benefits, says Patrick J. Wolf of the University of Arkansas.

Because numerous studies have been conducted to quantify the benefits of the MPCP, researchers at the University of Arkansas sought to analyze these final reports in an attempt to draw comprehensive and widely informed conclusions.  Looking at 31 such studies, they found that the impacts of the MPCP were, almost without exception, either neutral (no effect) or positive.

  • Enrolling in a private high school through MPCP increases the likelihood of a student graduating, enrolling in a four-year college, and persisting in college by 4 to 7 percentage points.
  • Tracking MPCP and public-school students over four years, researchers found that MPCP outperform in reading and have similar results in math.
  • Countering arguments that MPCP students are already high-achieving, researchers found that between 7.5 and 14.6 percent have a disability and many come to MPCP schools one to two years behind academically.

The studies found, on the whole, that most academic metrics were improved through gradually increasing participation in MPCP schools.  This strongly suggests that this program can serve as a viable alternative to traditional, state-run schools for educational outcomes.

Simultaneously, the study found that the MPCP system brings numerous external benefits to the state.

  • Students who remained in public schools were performing at higher levels due to competitive pressures from voucher schools.
  • Because the state-provided vouchers are less than the average cost of educating a student, the government realizes education savings (nearly $52 million in fiscal year 2011).
  • The MPCP has had no discernible effect on the racial segregation of schools or housing costs across neighborhoods.
  • The MPCP system does not create barriers to school switching between public and voucher schools -- students continue to exercise high levels of educational mobility.

Source: Patrick J. Wolf, "The Comprehensive Longitudinal Evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program: Summary of Final Reports," University of Arkansas, February 2012.

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