ON-Lion Letter

The 2014 Wisconsin Student Census released by the MacIver Institute in Madison in September records the school choices of the parents of every K-12 student in the state.  That ranges from students who attend their local traditional public schools to private-school students, homeschooled students, students in charter institutions, and pupils who use open enrollment to attend a traditional public school that lies outside of their home district. 

In all, there were 1,011,939 K-12 students in the state for the 2013-14 school year.  The parents of 273,194 -- or 27% -- of them chose their classrooms rather than allowing geographic limits dictate which school they attended.  The parents of 81% of Milwaukee K-12 students exercised choice.

The number and concentration of students attending charter schools or using open enrollment to attend a public school rose, but that was not enough to offset the population decreases in the state's private schools or among the declining number of pupils who used Chapter 220 and Three-Choice Enrollment transfers in Milwaukee and beyond, according to a summary by MacIver education-policy analyst Christian D'Andrea.  This led to a slightly lower concentration (.03%) of students who exercised school choice in 2013-14 than did in 2012-13.

The majority of students chose the state's local public schools, leading to a small increase in their share of the state's pupil count.  However, since overall enrollment dropped by more than 800 students, these public schools actually enrolled fewer children in 2013-14 than they did in the previous year.  Wisconsin's private schools educated the second-most students in the state, but suffered an overall loss of more than 3,000 students last year.  That drop came despite the presence of a new statewide school-choice program that enrolled more than 500 pupils.

The state's virtual schools and open-enrollment programs enjoyed the most-robust growth in the past year, gaining more than 10% of their previous populations through new enrollees.  Two programs that are primarily limited to Milwaukee, intra-district Chapter 220 transfers and Three-Choice Enrollment, saw their participation rates decline at significant rates.  However, it should be noted that the 2012-13 figure for Three-Choice Enrollment was an estimate and not the exact figure, so the percentage of students lost may not be accurate.

Charter-school enrollment continued its steady growth in the Badger State, cresting the 40,000-student plateau for the first time.  Homeschooling saw a modest resurgence after participation numbers dropped by over 1,200 students between the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years.

This growth among open enrollment and charter schools and decline in private-school enrollment is the continuation of a trend that dates back to the first MacIver Institute Student Census from 2010.

The data show significant increases in participation for the state's public school-choice programs and an overall decline in the total amount of students remaining in their neighborhood public schools.  Additionally, private-school enrollment has dropped by nearly 11,000 students in the past four years, despite the expansion of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and the creation of two new voucher programs (in Racine and statewide) during that span.

Milwaukee's Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation substantially supports the MacIver Institute.

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