Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

March 19, 2015

Wisconsin Private School Vouchers: A Short History

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 8:45 pm

• Wisconsin’s private school voucher program started in Milwaukee and has now become a state-wide program.

• The law enacting the Wisconsin voucher program, called the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), was passed in 1989. The first year of operation was the 1990-1991 school year. Originally the program was limited to 300 Milwaukee students whose families had an income less than 175% of the poverty level.

• Pupil Achievement Standards: Each private school is required to meet only one of the following standards in order to continue to be eligible to participate in the program in the following school year:
1. At least 70% of the pupils in the program advance one grade level each year.
2. The school’s average attendance rate for pupils in the program is at least 90%.
3. At least 80% of the pupils in the program demonstrate significant academic progress.
4. At least 70% of the families of pupils in the program meet parent involvement criteria established by the school.

• [Funding for the Milwaukee private school voucher program partially comes from taking a percent amount from Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS)  for each voucher student. This can only be made up by the MPS school board raising the Milwaukee property tax levy. This is referred to as the Milwaukee “voucher tax.” Before 2013 the formula required that 38.4% of the share of the cost of vouchers came from MPS (and subsequently Milwaukee property owners if the school board raises the tax levy), with the state paying the remaining 61.6% In the 2013-15 budget the legislature enacted to “sunset” the “voucher tax” by 2026. This means that Milwaukee property owners will pay between $400 million and $500 million to vouchers between 2013 and 2026. The 2013-2014 school-year saw over $56 million removed from the MPS per student state funding to pay for vouchers.]

• 1995 Originally, no more than 1% of the enrollment in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) could participate in the program, and no more than 49% of a choice school’s enrollment could consist of choice pupils. Expansion in 1995 Act 27, which allowed sectarian schools to participate in the program, increased the participation limit to 15% of MPS enrollment and deleted the percentage limit on the share of choice pupils in a choice school.

• In a 1998 decision the Wisconsin Supreme Court said the program was constitutional; the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review that decision.

• Religious schools began to participate in 1998.

• In 2005, DPI required that all teaching staff at voucher schools must have a high school diploma. Before 2005 there were no requirements for education attainment for voucher school teachers, administrators or other staff, including high school graduation.

• In 2005 the enrollment limit for the Milwaukee program was raised to 22,500 pupils.

• In 2009 teachers were required to have a bachelor’s degree, but no requirement for teacher training or certification.

• In 2009 state law was enacted requiring vouchers schools to administer the state assessment (WKCE) to choice pupils for the 2010-2011 school year. [In 2010-2011 MPS students scored higher on the tests than the voucher students and continue to do so.]

• In 2011 the enrollment cap for Milwaukee vouchers was eliminated.

• In 2011 Act 32 created a process under which a private school choice program could be created in eligible school districts other than MPS.

• In 2010-11, 83 percent of Milwaukee students enrolled in any given private school, accepting voucher students, received a voucher.

• In 2011 the family income cap for Milwaukee vouchers was increased in the 2011-13 state budget to 300% of the poverty level – meaning that a family of 2 parents and 2 children could earn up to $77,700 and still be eligible.

[One of the many glaring differences between MPS and that of the private voucher schools is related to special education services. In MPS about 20% of the students receive special education services; less that 3% of voucher students receive special education services.]

• In 2012-13, 78% of students enrolled in any given choice school participated in MPCP.
–1/5 of voucher schools were 100% choice students;
–1/2 of voucher schools were 95% or more choice students;
–3/4 of voucher schools were 68% or more choice students.
• In 2013 the voucher payment was increased to $7,050 for Pre-K to 8th grade and to $7,856 for high school students.

• The Wisconsin legislature created a Racine voucher program in 2011 and a statewide voucher program in 2013.

Present proposed changes 2015-17 budget:

• Remove the cap on voucher school participation statewide.
• Vouchers in the Racine Parental Choice Program and Wisconsin Parental Choice Program will be paid with funds from equalization aid allocated to the resident voucher student’s public school district.
• Only kids going into kindergarten, first grade, or ninth grade can receive a voucher. Kids who were in public schools the prior year would be eligible.
• Eligibility for statewide vouchers would be households with income no more than 185% of the federal poverty level. For Milwaukee, that number is 300%. For Racine, until now it has been 300%, but it would go to 185%.

• One proposal allows for voucher students to be tested differently that public school students.
Some of the research findings

• MPS students scored higher on the tests than the voucher students and continue to do so.

• Voucher proponents have been claiming that the voucher students have higher graduation rates than MPS students but Wisconsin’s Legislative Audit Bureau’s five year longitudinal study (2011) showed that approximately 75% of the voucher students who enrolled in 9th grade withdrew by 12th grade.

• Poorer, minority, and low achieving students are much more likely to leave MPCP, and much more likely to do so if they attend a school with greater than 75% of students receiving a voucher.

• Students who exit MPCP and return to MPS show substantial achievement gains once they return to MPS, even though they often choose the least effective MPS schools to return to.


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