Legislators should be skeptical of a proposal by Gov. Scott Walker to sharply expand the school voucher program. There isn’t much evidence that students in voucher schools are better educated; in fact, they seem to perform at about the same level as their peers in mainline public schools.
We also remain deeply skeptical of the move by the Legislature two years ago to open up the program to lower middle-income families. If there is any justification for the voucher schools, it’s to give impoverished families a “choice.” We have long supported choice for the poor and believe the program should be limited to those families. Republicans essentially are advocating a shadow school system. Why not work harder to adequately fund and hold accountable the system we have?
Walker’s plan would expand private voucher programs to at least nine other districts outside Milwaukee and Racine. Families with income of to about $70,000 a year would be eligible.
Before they act, legislators should take a close look at outcomes.
In a report released last month, the state Department of Public Instruction found that students attending voucher schools in Milwaukee and Racine scored lower than public school students in Milwaukee Public Schools and the Racine Unified School District on the state standardized achievement test.
I find discussions of the per-pupil funding level of different types of Milwaukee schools usually turns into a debate on how to make a true apples-to-apples comparison of per-pupil support for the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). While basic differences in MPS and MPCP schools and their cost-drivers make any comparison imperfect, the following is what you might call a green apples to red apples comparison.
DISCLAIMER: if you not interested in school funding, prepare to be bored.
Per-pupil support for MPS
Note I am not trying to calculate per-pupil education funding or suggest that this is the amount of money that actually reaches a school or classroom; it is a simple global picture of how much public revenue exists per-pupil in MPS. Below are the relevant numbers for 2012, from MPS documents:
Though not perfect, I think $13,063 (MPS) and $7,126 (MPCP) are reasonably comparative per-pupil public support numbers for MPS and the MPCP.