NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

School Choice is Changing Education In Milwaukee

February 20, 2002

As the U.S. Supreme Court mulls the challenge to school choice in Cleveland, Milwaukee is now offering more tax-supported educational choices than any other U.S. city. Utilizing charters and vouchers, the choices are not confined to parochial schools.

  • Vouchers help nearly 11,000 students attend 106 schools in Milwaukee, while more than 2,200 students attend seven different charter schools sponsored by the city or the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
  • Milwaukee is the only city where charter schools may be launched by public authorities other than local school districts.
  • Of the 37 schools created in inner-city Milwaukee since the launch of its choice program, nearly two-thirds are private and nonsectarian -- educating more than one-third of the nearly 11,000 choice students.

Moreover, competition generated by the choice movement has brought many fundamental and salutary changes to the way public schools operate.

  • Public school administrators negotiated with their teachers' union a new program to "counsel out" problem teachers.
  • They gave individual schools more responsibility for hiring, school budgeting and curriculum -- and expanded specialty programs like Montessori schools that historically turned students away because of lack of space.
  • Public school administrators approved a neighborhood school initiative to increase the number of schools that students can walk to; they converted halftime kindergarten to fulltime; they embarked on a major expansion of before- and after-school child care.

Harvard University economist Caroline M. Hoxby has concluded that public schools in Milwaukee "have a strong, positive response to competition from vouchers."

Source: John O. Norquist (Mayor of Milwaukee), "Vouchers Aren't Just for Religious Schools," Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2002.


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