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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