Milwaukee School Choice Students Show Higher Graduation Rates

Milwaukee—High school graduation rates in Milwaukee have risen steadily since 2003, with students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) more likely to receive diplomas than students in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).  These are the key findings in a new report by University of Minnesota Professor John Robert Warren, a national expert.

Based on seven years of data, Professor Warren estimates that the graduation rate for students in Milwaukee’s choice program was about 18% higher than for students in MPS.  Had MPS achieved the same graduation rate as students in the MPCP, an additional 3,939 Milwaukee students would have graduated from 2003 to 2009.  Based on findings in separate research reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the annual impact from these additional graduates would have been about $4.2 million in extra tax revenue and $24.9 million in additional personal income.

Warren’s research shows a general pattern of growth in Milwaukee graduation rates.  From 2003 to 2009 the MPS rate grew from 49% to 70%.  For the MPCP the rate grew from 63% to 82%.

The positive school choice results come on the heels of alarming news that the number of 9th graders entering the MPCP decreased in 2010-2011.  Per-pupil funding cuts and increased regulation have threatened the sustainability of private high schools in the MPCP.  The result has been a decrease in the number of freshman seats offered through the program, at a time when demand significantly exceeds the supply.

Currently, per-pupil taxpayer support for the MPCP is $6,442, less than half of the $15,034 spent per-pupil in MPS. The program now serves over 20,000 students.

Professor Warren notes that the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP), which is made up of researchers at the University of Arkansas, is conducting a detailed study of the choice program. He said their work might offer explanations for the higher graduation rates of choice students.