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Analysis: What Wisconsin's Governor Gets Wrong About How Much Milwaukee’s School Voucher Program Costs — and How Much It’s Helping Students in (and out of) the Classroom

May 22, 2019 in Economics

By Corey A. DeAngelis, Will Flanders

Corey A. DeAngelis and Will Flanders

In a recent
74 Interview
, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers repeated a number of
misleading statements about private school choice programs in
justifying his efforts to freeze or end them. Here, we respond to three
of Evers’s claims.

“[The program is] costing hundreds and hundreds of
millions of dollars
.”

Advocates for educational
options for low-income families in Wisconsin must remain
vigilant.

Because the voucher amount is substantially less than the
funding level for traditional public schools, the program
represents a savings to taxpayers so long as a significant portion
of voucher students would have attended traditional public schools
in the absence of the voucher. The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal
Bureau put the break-even point around 73 percent for Racine, and it would be
comparable in other districts. Dr. Robert Costrell of the School
Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas
similarly estimated the break-even to be around 74 percent and found that the program
saved around $32 million by 2008. Further, Dr. Martin Lueken of
EdChoice estimated the breakeven point to be around 75 percent for the Milwaukee voucher
program and found that the program saved Wisconsin taxpayers about
$343 million by 2015.

Given that most students using the voucher program are from
low-income households, it is likely that well over three-quarters
switch from public to private schools. In fact, the most recent experimental evaluation of the
Louisiana Scholarship Program — and the most recent experimental evaluation of the D.C.
Opportunity Scholarship Program — both found that 89 percent
of children who lost the voucher lottery attended public schools
without the voucher.

The bottom line? School choice saves taxpayer money in the
Badger State.

“The data we’ve had for 20-some years pretty
much shows that there’s not an appreciable – or any -
difference in academic achievement of kids that get a voucher and
those that go to regular public schools.”

While the inclusion of the caveat “not appreciable”
could allow for substantial hedging, the preponderance of
scientific evidence is hard to ignore. There is considerable
research on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program – and most of the
rigorous evidence reveals benefits.

The two random assignment evaluations of the program, published
in the Quarterly Journal of Economics and Education and Urban Society, found that the
program increased students’ test scores. The more recent
longitudinal evaluation by the University of
Arkansas found that students participating in the program have
higher achievement growth in reading than their matched peers in
public schools, though similar achievement growth in math. An
evaluation …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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