Wisconsin Presses Forward on School Choice

Rachel Sheffield /

Wisconsin is home to the longest-running and largest school choice program in the nation. Now, state legislators are taking steps to open wider the doors of educational opportunities for families in the Badger State.

For the last 20 years, Wisconsin students have benefited from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), which provides vouchers to low-income Milwaukee students to attend private schools of their choice. Now, action taken just this week by the state’s Joint Finance Committee would expand the program by implementing a variety of reforms. As the American Federation of Children explains:

The legislation—which comprises proposals from Democratic and Republic lawmakers—would eliminate the student enrollment cap on the MPCP, expand the program to include middle-income families earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level, increase the number of private schools eligible to accept students with vouchers, and eliminate the possibility that students initially eligible could be removed from the choice program if their parents’ income increases after their children have been admitted.

The current income limit for program eligibility is set at 175 percent of the federal poverty line, or roughly $40,000 for a family of four. With the new income cap lifted to 300 percent of the federal poverty line, a family of four that earns up to approximately $67,000 would be able to participate.

In addition to expanding Milwaukee’s program, the new legislation would put into place a similar school choice program for students in Racine County, Wisconsin. While Racine’s program would start out small—only 250 students could participate the first year, increasing to 500 the following year—by 2013 there would be no limit to the number of children who could benefit from the scholarships.

Greater opportunities for educational choice is good news for Wisconsin families given that a recent evaluation revealed that MPCP students have an 18 percent higher graduation rate than their public school peers. Furthermore, the per-pupil cost of the voucher program—roughly $6,500 per student—is significantly less than the $15,000 spent by the Milwaukee Public Schools to educate a child.

The school choice momentum is swelling nationwide. And while what is becoming “the new normal” of school choice in an ever-growing number of states is not necessarily new for Wisconsin, the state is continuing to press forward on the front of educational opportunity. More choice means that more students will have the opportunity to take control of their education and their futures.