Milwaukee Parental Choice Program Evaluation

The MPCP was established in 1990 as the first urban education reform in the U.S. built around the idea of permitting parents to enroll their children in private schools of their choosing at government expense. It has since expanded from the initial group of 341 students attending seven secular private schools to over 23,000 students in nearly 120 private schools, many of which have a religious affiliation. A similar program was launched in Racine, Wisconsin, in 2011.

In 2006 the State of Wisconsin mandated that Milwaukee schools make data available to the School Choice Demonstration Project. Those data allowed us to conduct a longitudinal evaluation of the MPCP and publicly report our findings. We have done so in a set of 36 reports released from 2007-2012 that document the participant, systemic, and community effects of the MPCP. Our main findings included that the program had a positive effect on a student’s likelihood of graduating from high school and enrolling and persisting in a 4-year college. We found little evidence that the Choice program increased the test scores of participating students, though our final analysis revealed a positive effect of the program on reading scores when combined with high stakes testing. There was no evidence of program effects on math scores. Competition from the Choice program appears to have boosted the test scores of students who remained in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), but those systemic effects of the program were modest in size. Because the maximum value of the voucher ($6,442) is substantially less than what the government pays to educate students in MPS, the state saves over $50 million per year from the operation of the program. These findings and many others appear in the reports provided below and in articles published or forthcoming in peer-reviewed academic journals.