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New Study Shows Higher Graduation, Achievement Rates for Milwaukee Voucher Students

Posted on Monday February 27, 2012 | National

Results of rigorous evaluation also show program has improved public school performance

MILWAUKEE, WI (February 27, 2012)—Students enrolled in the Milwaukee voucher program are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college than their public school counterparts, boast significantly improved reading scores, represent a more diverse cross-section of the city, and are improving the results of traditional public school students, according to a comprehensive evaluation of the program released today.

The American Federation for Children—the nation’s voice for school choice—praised the positive results as the most recent proof of the success of publicly funded private school choice programs, which currently educate more than 210,000 children nationwide and more than 23,000 students in Wisconsin.

Among the new findings are that students enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP)—the nation’s oldest private school choice program currently in operation—not only graduate from high school on time by seven percentage points more than students enrolled in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), but they are also more likely to enroll in a four-year college and persist in college. Tracking of both MPCP and MPS students over a four-year period reveals significantly higher achievement growth in reading for MPCP students, as well as higher levels of science achievement in upper grades.

The study, released today by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas, comes a year after data showed higher graduation rates for MPCP students. The new study is the most comprehensive look yet at the MPCP, which was expanded and strengthened during last year’s legislative session.

Patrick J. Wolf, the evaluation’s principal investigator, wrote in the study summary that the results are the “last word” on the nation’s first voucher program.

”Although we have examined virtually every possible way that school choice could systematically affect people, schools, and neighborhoods in Milwaukee, we have found no evidence of any harmful effects of choice,” Wolf wrote. He also noted that “participation in the MPCP or enrollment in an independent public charter school has produced better student outcomes than those experienced by similar students in MPS.”

The evaluation also revealed that that previous estimates of the number of students with special needs enrolled in the MPCP were significantly underreported by the Department of Public Instruction. Between 7.5 and 14.6 percent of students in the voucher program have a disability—at least four times the number reported by the state.

Also noteworthy is the effect that the continued growth and strengthening of the voucher program is having on Milwaukee Public Schools. Competitive pressure from the MPCP has raised public school achievement, and the study reported savings of nearly $52 million to the state during the last fiscal year.

These new findings come on the heels of a year of record growth for publicly funded private school choice programs across the country. Last year, seven new programs were enacted and 11 programs were strengthened or expanded. The MPCP program raised income limits, expanded the pool of eligible schools in the program, and added a provision allowing currently-enrolled families to stay in the program regardless of future income increases. A program modeled after the one in Milwaukee began in Racine, nearly reaching its first-year enrollment cap.

A summary of the School Choice Demonstration Project report is available for download here.