Comprehensive Longitudinal Evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

School Choice Demonstration Project
Department of Education Reform, University of Arkansas
2008

The School Choice Demonstration Project, based at the University of Arkansas, has started a massive, five-year longitudinal evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP)-the largest voucher program in the country-serving over 18,000 low-income students. This evaluation, intended to be the most comprehensive of its kind, is investigating the impact of the program on students, parents, taxpayers, schools, and the larger community. Specifically, does the program work? If so, how, where, when, and at what cost?

Here are some findings from the baseline year evaluation:

First, the MPCP generated an estimated $25 million in tax savings in the 2006-2007 school year but these savings affected the pocketbooks of citizens differently. Because of the design of Wisconsin's funding system, taxpayers in Milwaukee are actually paying higher property taxes, while those outside of Milwaukee are receiving sizeable tax benefits from the program.

  • Second, most of the MPCP schools participating in the program enroll Choice students that comprise more than 80 percent of their total population. Additionally, most of the MPCP schools are religious and tend to be much smaller and have lower student-teacher ratios than Milwaukee Public Schools' (MPS) buildings.
  • Third, the limited snapshot indicates that the Choice students tend to perform below national averages but at levels comparable to similar economically disadvantaged students in MPS.

As policymakers continue to debate the merits of Ohio's growing EdChoice Scholarship Program-with scant evidence suggesting whether the program is working or not-Ohioans would be wise to pay close attention to lessons that can be learned from the Milwaukee study as the evaluation unfolds. In fact, Ohio should examine its voucher program in a similar way. How can we make policy decisions about a politically hot issue that affects thousands of children with virtually no information about the impact it is having?

We urge readers to "stay tuned" but for now, read all five of the baseline reports here.

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