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July 19 2019

Wisconsin Students in School Choice Programs Outperform Public School Peers

The Heartland Institute
featuring Vicki E. Alger

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) has released its third annual peer-reviewed study of school academic performance across the Badger State, revealing private schools participating in the state’s school choice programs are outperforming traditional public schools (TPS).

In Apples to Apples: The Definitive Look at School Test Scores in Milwaukee and Wisconsin for 2019, WILL Research Director Will Flanders finds that students in Wisconsin’s multiple voucher programs—the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), Racine Parental Choice Program (RPCP), Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP), and Special Needs Scholarship Program—are outperforming their TPS peers in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics proficiency.

In Milwaukee, MPCP schools had proficiency rates 4.65 percent higher in ELA and 3.95 percent in math, respectively, than Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Schools participating in RPCP and WPCP also showed proficiency rates 3 percent higher in ELA. Student growth, how much they increase their performance from one year to the next was 7 percent higher in MPCP than MPS and was 6.8 percent higher in RPCP and WPCP.

As in previous years of the study, WILL finds Catholic and Lutheran schools are the main driver in the proficiency advantage MPCP schools hold over MPS. MPCP Catholic schools were 8.9 percent more proficient in ELA and 4.1 percent higher in math than in similar TPS. Lutheran schools were 7.1 percent more proficient in math than TPS.

This is not the only good news to come out about Wisconsin’s school choice programs in 2019. A Reason Foundation study from May found Wisconsin private schools receive 27 percent less funding than TPS, yet they produce 2.27 more points on the state’s Accountability Report Cards for every $1,000 invested, making them 36 percent more cost-effective than TPS. Private schools in Milwaukee are 50 percent more cost effective, and private schools in Racine are 75 percent more cost effective than TPS in those cities.

Another study, published in Social Science Quarterly, showed persistent, long-term participation in MPCP can lead to decreased criminal activity for Milwaukee children later in life. Earlier research show high school students participating in MPCP have lower levels of criminality than their MPS peers, and MPCP students are expected to generate almost $475 million in additional economic benefits “associated with higher graduation rates” from 2016 to 2035.

Copious other empirical research on school programs in Wisconsin and elsewhere shows these programs offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances. Moreover, these programs improve access to schools that deliver quality education inexpensively. Furthermore, school choice programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.

Students at private schools are also less likely than their public school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link suggesting private school choice programs improve the mental health of participating students.

Based on what we know about the educational benefits of school choice programs in general and Wisconsin’s students in particular, it is not out of bounds to say an expansion of the programs that would make them completely open to all students is well-deserving. The goal of public education in Wisconsin today and in the years to come should be to allow all parents to choose which schools their children attend, require every school to compete for every student who walks through its doors, and make sure every child has the opportunity to attend a quality school.

The following documents provide more information about school choice programs.

Protecting Students with Child Safety Accounts
https://www.heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/protecting-students-with-child-safety-accounts
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Vicki Alger, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and research fellow at the Independent Institute, and Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson detail the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and assault taking place in America’s public schools and the difficulties for parents in having their child moved from a school that is unsafe for them. Alger and Benson propose a Child Safety Account program, which would allow parents to immediately have their child moved to a safe school – private, parochial, or pub­lic – as soon as parents feel the public school their child is currently attending is too dangerous to their child’s physical or emotion­al health.


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Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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