Milwaukee Parental Choice Program
Milwaukee is home to the nation’s first modern school choice program. It provides scholarships to eligible low-income children to attend the private school that best meets their educational needs.
The voucher is worth the amount of state funding for each student in the Milwaukee public schools. The amount of the voucher does not include local funding. For the 2006-2007 school year, the voucher is worth up to $6,501. The voucher may not exceed the private school’s actual tuition and fees. Families are not allowed to supplement the voucher with their own money.
When MPCP began in 1990, 341 students utilized the program and in 2006-2007, 17,275 students are using vouchers at 124 private schools in the area. In 2005-2006, the program reached the prior enrollment cap of 15 percent of Milwaukee Public Schools’ student population. In March 2006, the cap was raised to 22,500 students.
Students who live in the Milwaukee and whose family income does not exceed 175 percent of the federal poverty level ($35, 523 for a family of four in 2006-2007) are eligible to receive a voucher. Once families join the program, their family income can rise to 220 percent of the federal poverty level ($44,658 for a family of four in 2006-2007) before they lose eligibility. This higher income eligibility threshold also applies to siblings of current voucher students. Participating private schools must accept voucher students at random if they have more applicants than open seats, although preference is given to siblings of current participants. Currently 86,000 students in the city of Milwaukee are eligible for the program.
Regulations on the Program
Participating private schools must accept all eligible students. They also must obey all laws that apply to Wisconsin private schools, follow state accountability standards, file an independent audit, comply with health and safety codes and comply with civil rights laws. In addition, students enrolled at religious schools must be allowed to opt out of religious instruction if they chose. Beginning in 2006-2007, all participating schools must given a nationally normed standardized test in reading, math and science to all voucher students in grades 4, 8 and 10. All schools participating in Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program must apply and receive accreditation by 2009.