A new study published by School Choice Wisconsin finds that students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP)—the largest voucher program in the country with more then 20,000 students—had a graduation rate 18 percent higher than students in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Author John Robert Warren of the University of Minnesota finds that:
Overall, had MPS graduation rates equaled those for MPCP students in the classes of 2003 through 2009, the number of MPS graduates would have been about 18 percent higher. That higher rate would have resulted in 3,939 more MPS graduates during the 2003–2009 years.
While the study is careful not to claim a causal link—the higher graduation rates cannot, based on the study design, be directly attributed to the scholarship program—the results are promising. And in addition to higher graduation rates among students in the MPCP, the graduation rates have been climbing in both sectors. From 2003 to 2009, the graduation rate of MPS students grew from 49 percent to 70 percent. For students in the MPCP, the graduation rate increased from 63 percent to 82 percent.
This is another good indication that the competitive pressure placed on surrounding public schools from the voucher program is lifting all boats. This is the case with the Florida McKay Scholarship Program for special needs students, where researchers found that the competitive pressure on the public schools resulting from the special needs vouchers increased academic achievement among students with disabilities remaining in surrounding public schools. Researchers Jay Greene and Marcus Winters found that “students eligible for vouchers who remained in the public schools made greater academic improvements as their school choices increased.”
And, like other voucher programs across the county, the MPCP operates far more efficiently than the public school system. At $6,442 per scholarship, the vouchers are less than half the $15,034 spent by MPS.
The results of the Warren study are promising. Patrick Wolf, who works with the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas, is leading a longitudinal study of the MPCP, the results of which are due out very soon. The findings of Wolf’s research will provide more insight into the relationship between the higher graduation rates and the voucher program.
Students across the country are benefiting from school choice programs like the MPCP. School choice options like private school vouchers, tax credits, virtual school, and homeschooling put parents in the driver’s seat of their children’s education—a factor that likely contributes to the increased levels of achievement and attainment these programs produce.