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Response to MPS Debacle MUST Include Expanded School Choice for All Families

No response to the regrettable MPS debacle will be adequate if it does not include expanded educational choice for all families. Every child deserves an exit pass.

Educational choice is the single policy with demonstrable results in the decades of MPS “reform” efforts. Scores of choice students have gone up while those of MPS students have declined.

More than half of the city’s parents now use options enacted in the 1990s under Governor Tommy Thompson. The latest data available show that in the 2022-23 school year:

• 5,766 Milwaukee students used the Open Enrollment program to enroll in a different public district than MPS;

• 17,862 used public charter schools that operate outside the tentacles of the MPS bureaucracy; and

• 28,916 used the pioneering Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) to attend a private school.

Data below helps explain the popularity of the private school option. Figures 1 and 2 compare the percentage of students in MPS and private choice schools that score proficient or advanced on state tests. Since 2016-17 scores of private choice students have increased while those of MPS students have declined.


School choice

Two facts make these comparisons particularly powerful.

First, the most comprehensive study of the MPCP shows that private choice students enter the program performing at significantly lower levels than the average MPS student. Nonetheless, for the last several years choice students on average are outperforming MPS.

Second, figures above compare choice students from low-income and working-class families with MPS students of all income levels, including those at MPS selective admission schools. The performance gap between choice and MPS students would be much larger if the comparison were between students with similar demographic backgrounds.

It’s time to remove family income eligibility limits so that all Milwaukee families have the private school option that is demonstrably working for currently eligible families and for the City.

Nic Kelly is the president of School Choice Wisconsin.

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