School Choice: Milwaukee, WI

Since the establishment of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) in 1990, the City of Milwaukee has been at the forefront of alternative education options throughout the country. MPCP is currently the nations largest and oldest school choice program, giving kindergarten through 12th grade students from low-income families living in the city the option to attend, at no cost, a participating private school.

When introduced, the program was limited to non-sectarian private schools within Milwaukee, however in 1998 the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that religious schools were constitutional, and thus they became another option for choice students. Since the introduction of religious schools, enrollment grew beyond the ceiling that was in place and the controversy over the choice program heightened.   

The goal of the choice program is to offer alternative schooling options, via publicly funded vouchers, for students to attend a private school they would otherwise not have the financial means to afford.  This was done in an effort to place students in schools where they would be able to excel and get the special education and attention they need. However, there is debate over whether or not the program is working to meet these goals and if vouchers are the most effective way of helping students with education problems. 

After twenty years, there is ample research and data available for both sides to argue their case. School choice advocates show that voucher students have a higher graduation rate than traditional Milwaukee Public School students. Those opposed to the program contend that the test scores released so far indicate that voucher students are performing no better than their MPS peers.  

This is a collection of the leading reports, both analytical and empirical, on the school choice options in Milwaukee. It covers the history and the pros and cons of the program, including reports by the nation's leading institutions for education reform and local newspapers from Milwaukee. The rationale for the program is laid out by its supporters and opponents, with testimony from teachers and parents in the Milwaukee education system. The Milwaukee school choice program has had an impact on education reform not only in Wisconsin, but across the country as well, as other leading school choice programs emerge. 

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Commentary or Blog Post

An article discussing the shortcomings of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program in developing improved test scores.

Borsuk's article discusses the reasoning behind Diane Ravitch's switch from pro-voucher program to returning to focus solely on making public schools better.

An article examining the results of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

An article discussing the results of the Milwaukee voucher program, which examined it in a study conducted after 20 years of its existence.

An article discussing Diane Ravitch's book on the effects of school choice and its impact on the traditional school and educational systems.

Borsuk evaluates the effectiveness of the Milwaukee Public School's choice program concluding that the program is a large contributer to the shape of the "educational landscape" within the city.

An article discussing the demographics and achievements of voucher program students in comparison to the Milwaukee public school students.

This article briefly mentions the findings of a report done to examine both the D.C. voucher program and the Milwaukee voucher program.

Erin Richards reports on data from a study comparing the high school graduation rates of students in Milwaukee Public Schools with those of students enrolled in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

Marie Gryphon's article discussing the Milwaukee School Choice system, including its successes and short-comings.

This article asks the tough questions about whether the Milwaukee voucher program actually saves taxpayers money, and it also asks if it actually works.

Chart or Graph

This chart shows the progression of parental choice in the Milwaukee school system from 1989 through 2006.

This map shows where choice schools, MPS contracted schools, and independent charter schools are located within the city of Milwaukee.

This chart shows various regulations and criteria for students and participating institutions under these three education options within the City of Milwaukee.

This graph depicts the growth in the Milwaukee private school voucher program from the 1990-91 school year through 2006-07.

This graph shows the per-student revenue limit for Milwaukee Public Schools from 1994, the year revenue limits were established, through 2008.

Analysis Report White Paper

In this article, Hess analyses the reasons why Milwaukee and other cities' school choice programs have not yielded results as promised and hoped.

Charter Schools against the Odds explains how these policies can be amended to level the playing field and give charter schools--and the children they serve--a fairer chance to succeed.

John R. Warren's in-depth analysis of Milwaukee school choice and their voucher program.

The general purpose of this study is to assess the effectiveness of Milwaukee's independent charter schools in promoting student achievement growth. Independent charter schools are authorized by non-school district entities and are considered 'independent' because they are not a part of the Milwaukee Public School District (MPS).

This report provides descriptive data regarding the test scores of Milwaukee Parental Choice Program students in grades 4, 8 and 10 in reading, math and science, as reported to the School Choice Demonstration Project 2006-2007.

"This report is the second in a series of annual reports produced by the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP) that will provide descriptive information about the private schools participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), the oldest and largest urban school voucher program in the U. S."

The newest installment of an annual report by School Choice Wisconsin documents how the Milwaukee Public Schools have improved since educational options like charter schools, contract schools, and vouchers were created or expanded in the 1990s.

An analysis examining the effects new regulations have on the voucher program in Milwaukee.

A comparison of test results from those students participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program with those students who remain in the Milwaukee Public Schools.

A report examining the intricacies and developments involved with the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. The researchers compare it to a "randomized experiment."

An analysis of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program 15 years after its inception.

The fiscal report of the schools participating in School Choice in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


Students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) perform no worse than their peers in that city's public schools despite costing taxpayers significantly less, according to the third year results of an ongoing independent five year study of the program.

Milwaukee teacher Ann Oulahan critiques the city's voucher program, arguing that there is a lack of accountability for voucher schools.

Primary Document

2005 Wisconsin Act 125, as part 2005 Senate Bill 618, repeals, amends, and creates statues relating to the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education Program.

A budget brief on the Milwaukee Parental Choice private voucher program. It discusses the income limit and various demographics of the program.

This brochure, designed for parents, provides information on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program's 2010-2011 academic year. It includes basic information on the program, "Frequently Asked Questions," eligibility requirements, and guidelines on how to apply.

Chapter 35 of the Department of Public Instruction is composed of the administrative rule for the Milwaukee parental choice program. This chapter includes among other sections, a statement of purpose (PI 35.01), school requirements (PI 35.03), enrollment procedures (PI 35.04), financial requirements (PI 35.045), and fiscal policy practices (PI 35.047).

This memo, written by Senior Staff Attorney Joyce L. Kiel, provides a brief description of the 2005 Wisconsin Act 125 and the changes it made to the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (Choice Program) and the Student Achievement Guarantee in Education (SAGE) Program.

Wisconsin Statue 119 is applicable to a first class city school system. The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (119.23) can be found beginning on page 4.




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