Public Policy Forum Blog

Voucher school survey shows continued growth

The Public Policy Forum has released the results of its annual survey of schools participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. The survey marks the 17th annual census of MPCP schools and remains one of the only publicly available sources of information on the voucher program in Milwaukee.

Surveys were sent to each of the 114 schools participating in MPCP in November 2014 with data collection ending in April 2015. The surveys collected a variety of data metrics, including capacity, total school enrollment, teachers, tuition, accreditation, and religious affiliation — data not available from public sources. New questions were added this year to measure the extent of arts, music and theater offerings at MPCP schools.

This year, for the first time, we present our overall survey findings with an interactive website, as opposed to the usual research brief. Those who wish to review findings can scroll through the tabs to access information on various data elements. As in previous years, we have also produced a directory of individual MPCP schools, which can be accessed via the website.

Some key findings include:

An increase in the number of schools accepting vouchers. 114 schools participated in the MPCP in the 2014-15 schools year, four more schools than last year, but down from a high of 128 schools in 2005-06.

Voucher enrollment continues to grow. 26,689 students attended a private school using a voucher in 2014-15. The number of students increased 3% over last year and has nearly tripled since 2000. Three changes to the program in 2011 contributed to this increase. First, the program was expanded to suburban private schools. Second, changes in income eligibility requirements meant more students qualified for a voucher.  Lastly, program enrollment caps were eliminated.

New schools are driving the enrollment growth. Almost 75% of the total enrollment growth in MPCP in 2014-15 came from enrollment in new schools that joined the program.

MPCP experienced turnover in schools. There were 9 new schools in MPCP for the 2014-15 school year. However, the total number of schools in MPCP only increased by 4, meaning there were 5 schools open in 2013-14 that were closed this year.

Voucher students comprise majority of enrollment. In 4 out of 5 MPCP schools, voucher students make up more than 50% of the enrollment. More than 3 in 5 MPCP schools enroll more than 90% of their students using a voucher.

Our release of the annual survey comes at a time when state lawmakers are considering expanding the current statewide voucher program as part of the 2015-17 state budget. The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates such an expansion could shift between $600-800 million from public schools over the next 10 years. The plan was approved by the Joint Finance Committee but must still pass both houses of the state Legislature and be signed into law by the governor.

Joe Yeado