Milwaukee parental choice program reaps benefits beyond academics

“There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in a test score analysis …” Shakespeare by way of Ladner

Learning to read proficiently and to understand math are two jolly important goals for our schools. They are by far, however, not the only goals.

Americans want students equipped with the academic knowledge and training for success, but they also aspire to broader types of success in the formation of character – the ability to exercise citizenship responsibly and to function as productive members of society, for instance.

A new study from Patrick Wolf, a professor of education policy at the University of Arkansas, and Corey DeAngelis of the Reason Foundation, published in the Journal of Private Enterprise, tracks long-term outcomes associated with the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. The MPCP makes low-income students eligible to receive a voucher to attend a private school.

The authors carefully construct a comparison group and analyze the long-term social welfare effects on students who have been offered a voucher after controlling for a variety of student background characteristics. They found that exposure to the MPCP is associated with a reduction of about 53% in drug convictions, 86% in property damage convictions and 38% in paternity suits. Effects tend to be largest for males and students with lower levels of academic achievement at baseline.

So, in addition to academic benefits of the program, including a higher high school graduation rate, MPCP participants also have lower criminal conviction rates and less time in family court. The average MPCP voucher was worth $7,943 in 2018-19 while the average total spending per pupil in the Milwaukee Public Schools was $15,250 in 2017-18.

Just imagine what Milwaukee students might do if they got equitable funding, and if their families could utilize that funding for educational benefits beyond private school tuition. There would almost be enough money left over to pay for the sort of enrichment activities that the top decile American families pay for things like summer camps and tutors.