More than 2,000 new students entered the school voucher program this year after the Legislature relaxed requirements. That’s the good news. The bad news? Much of that growth came from kids whose parents already were paying out-of-pocket for their children to attend private or religious schools, according to a new study by the Public Policy Forum. The trend is the result of a misguided shift in philosophy that we warned against when lawmakers were considering these changes last year.
The 12% growth in students using taxpayer-funded vouchers is due in part to the elimination of the voucher enrollment cap and the relaxation of income eligibility limits. These changes have muddied the playing field for families who would not be able to send their children to private or religious schools if not for the choice program.
Milwaukee has no viable future without a base of middle-class families. The alternative? Detroit, where municipal bankruptcy looms and large, once-thriving swaths of the community are deserted. If that becomes Milwaukee’s fate, the biggest losers clearly would be low-income families struggling to get ahead.
The unsuccessful effort to lure Kohl’s Corp. to the Park East corridor vividly illustrates this issue. Local officials were prepared to commit more than $100 million in taxpayer funds to bring jobs, families and the resulting economic boost to Milwaukee. Had Kohl’s said yes, the Journal Sentinel would have generated stories and editorials explaining the potent ripple effect on Milwaukee’s tax base, its housing market and the retail community at large.
Contrast that reaction with the Journal Sentinel Editorial Board’s concern, spurred by a flawed Public Policy Forum analysis, that some Milwaukee families who previously paid private school tuition are now eligible for the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. The board wants to roll back an expansion of the program so only low-income families can benefit, a retreat that ultimately would hurt those families the most.