A new report says Milwaukee's taxpayer-funded voucher school students are similar in exam outcomes and demographic make-up compared with their public school counterparts.
The Milwaukee-based nonpartisan Public Policy Forum's data compares the state's districts with the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program as a whole.
Research director Anneliese Dickman says though MPCP has existed for more than two decades, this is only the second year student performance measures can be compared. As a result, it is difficult to read any trends.
That said, she says performance levels are comparable - and actually, a little lower - to those at MPS schools.
"In MPS, in reading across the entire district across all the grades about 60 percent of the students are proficient, and in the private schools, of the students using vouchers, about 57 percent are proficient in reading, so it's very similar," she says.
It is an interesting finding, given that school choice was designed to raise achievement by moving kids out of struggling schools. But Dickman says because the data is not complete, it is difficult to make a definitive assessment of the success of the MPCP.
The only performance measure that's available at this stage is the WKCE test, which is only given in grades 3-8 and 10. Dickman says this means that there are large numbers of students for whom no comparison is yet possible.
Within the data, though, is the interesting finding that the most successfully performing choice schools are affiliated with the Lutheran and Catholic church.
In addition to exam scores, Dickman says the similarities also extend to student demographics and the amount of state aid, as compared with other large, urban districts across the state.
MPCP schools teach nearly 25,000 publicly-funded students. If it were a school district, only MPS would have more low-income and minority students enrolled among Wisconsin districts. Demographics-wise, it is very similar to that at MPS.
But the MPCP has more students enrolling. While it gets about the same state aid per pupil as MPS, it has lower overall per-pupil costs compared with the Milwaukee, Madison, Kenosha and Racine school districts.
"These students are very similar, but the amount that's being spent in the private schools is much lower," Dickman says. "Is that what we want? Is that what we want as a community? Is that what we want as taxpayers? Do we want to have an investment of $6,442 per child, that's the voucher amount, when we're talking about very low income children with a very low performance?"
Interestingly, a recent poll shows that 40 percent of Wisconsinites surveyed think a priority for the state budget surplus should be increased spending on education. Details of Governor Walker's proposed biennial budget have been emerging in recent days, and proponents of parental choice programs are hopeful the budget will call for an expansion of the state's voucher program - as was the case in Walker's last budget two years ago.
This is the 15th year the group has produced a research report on schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.