ON-Lion Letter
The first set of reports from the School Choice Demonstration Project's (SCDP's) longitudinal study of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) was released in February.  The reports set a baseline for five years' worth of SCDP research on the voucher program, which was the first of its kind when it started in 1990 and, in 2006-07, enrolled 17,749 students at 122 private schools.

"Much of our research findings to this point are descriptive because these reports focus on the baseline year of this study, the 2006-07 academic year," according to Patrick J. Wolf, a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, where SCDP is based.  "Because it's a longitudinal study, eventually we will be able to show whether or not the program produces positive student outcomes such as achievement gains.

"With a total of 36 reports planned over the five years of this project," Wolf continued, "we have developed a highly sophisticated research design to generate reliable estimates of the effects of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program on student achievement."

Robert M. Costrell, also a professor of education reform at Arkansas, authored a study of the program's fiscal impact.  Costrell estimated that MPCP saved the state of Wisconsin $25 million last year, but that the savings were not distributed evenly among taxpayers.  Those who pay statewide taxes and taxes on property outside Milwaukee received sizable fiscal benefits from the operation of the program, while Milwaukee property owners pay higher property taxes as a result.

Another report, summarizing test results, suggests that MPCP students tend to perform below national averages, but at levels roughly comparable to similarly income-disadvantaged students in Milwaukee public schools.

Yet another report is the first of the longitudinal educational growth studies (LEGS) led by John F. Witte, professor of political science and public policy at the University of Wisconsin.  LEGS will compare test scores and survey responses of MPCP students with comparable public-school students.  LEGS will survey MPCP and public-school parents, too.  It has found that parents of students in the choice schools had lower incomes, but higher levels of education, than parents of otherwise similar children in public schools. 

A descriptive report paints a picture of a large and diverse set of parental choice programs in Milwaukee.  The private schools in MPCP are primarily, but not exclusively, religious and a majority of them enroll predominantly MPCP students.  These schools also tend to be smaller, with lower student-teacher ratios, than Milwaukee public schools. 

Along with several other foundations, Milwaukee's Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation supports SCDP.
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