Notes and Commentary on the Milwaukee Voucher Program’s first 30 years

Alan Borsuk:

It started out in Fall 1991 with 337 students in seven schools. Religious schools weren’t allowed to participate then and only one of those seven schools (Bruce Guadalupe) still exists. The program grew slowly until 1998, when the Wisconsin Supreme Court became the first high court in the nation to rule that using public money to support students attending religious kindergarten through twelfth grades schools was constitutional.

Voucher use grew strongly after that. By last fall, about 28,000 children, around a quarter of all Milwaukee children receiving publicly funded education, were going to about 115 private schools. That in itself is a big key to understanding the dramatic change overall in the local school landscape, due to vouchers.

Just to be clear, no one has ever been required or assigned to use a voucher to go to a private school. That wouldn’t be legal. Thousands of parents want their kids to attend private and, most cases, religious schools, and vouchers make that possible. Why do parents make such choices?

There are as many answers as there are students, but the best list I can offer includes the belief that, compared to many public schools, environments are safer, discipline is stricter, classes are often smaller, and the Bible is part of the program.