Milwaukee’s private school voucher program has broken new and controversial ground often in its 21-year history. Now, it is headed toward what might well be another amazing national first.
If Gov. Scott Walker and leading voucher advocates prevail, Milwaukee will become the first city in American history where any child, regardless of income, can go to a private school, including a religious school, using public money to pay the bill.
Universal vouchers have been a concept favored by many free-market economists and libertarians since they were suggested by famed economist Milton Friedman more than half a century ago. Friedman’s theory was that if all parents could apply their fair share of public money for educating their children at whatever school they thought best, their choices would drive educational quality higher.
Coming soon (fairly likely): Milwaukee as the biggest testing ground of Friedman’s idea.
But not only is it hard to figure out what to say about the future of vouchers, it’s not easy to know what to say about the past of Milwaukee’s 21-year-old program of vouchers limited to low-income students except that it has been popular (more than 20,000 students using vouchers this year to attend more than 100 private schools) and there is not much of a case (except in some specific schools) that it has driven quality higher, both when it comes to many of the private schools specifically and when it comes to the educational waterfront of Milwaukee.