The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program is one of the most talked about issues in Wisconsin and the nation, and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction is trying to kill it.
By George Mitchell
This report analyzes the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). The program provides tax support for children from low-income families to attend private schools. It has attracted national attention in the school reform debate.
- For most participating students, the program has been successful.
- Enrollment is up 81% from the first year. Parent satisfaction is high.
- Early gains in reading scores, if sustained, are significant.
- The program has succeeded in focusing on low-income children having difficulty in public school. Ninety-eight percent of participating students are eligible for subsidized federal food programs; 96% are from minority groups.
- Participating private schools exhibit characteristics associated with effective education. Historically, they have been successful in educating students from low income families.
- There are significant limitations arising from the statutes which created the program:
- Many children from low-income families can’t participate. Already, more students have been rejected than accepted.
- As structured, the MPCP will not fairly test the main claim of educational choice proponents: that choice can be a competitive incentive for public schools to improve.
If various limits on participation in the program aren’t lifted or eased, the MPCP will be merely one more program for a few hundred children. Unless allowed to expand, its potential impact on broad educational reform will remain untested and unknown.
The Governor and the 1993 Legislature should consider several actions regarding the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.
- Low-income children should not be excluded by arbitrary administrative and statutory limits. These limits should be lifted.
- Low-income children should not be excluded because their parents are unaware of the program. Grover should be directed to comply in good faith with the requirement that parents be informed.
- Full responsibility for the state’s evaluation of the program should be transferred from the Department of Public Instruction to the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB). An LAB report due in 1995 should be accelerated.
- The Department of Public Instruction should be directed to enforce its own rules for protecting student confidentiality, thereby enabling public review of academic achievement records.
- The Attorney General should be asked to determine if Grover has violated the Wisconsin Open Records Act.