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Parents Who Got Vouchers Satisfied With Schools

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Most Milwaukee parents who received privately funded vouchers to help pay for their children's private school education last year were satisfied with the program and their choice of schools, a new study shows.

Family Service America, a nonprofit Milwaukee organization, surveyed participants in the first year of the Partners Advancing Values in Education program, in which corporate and private donors gave more than $1.3 million to low-income families to pay up to half the cost of attending private schools.

The program aided 2,089 students last year, with a maximum grant of $1,000 per student.

PAVE is not connected with the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, Wisconsin's controversial state-funded voucher program. Rather, it is more closely related to other privately funded voucher programs launched in Atlanta, Indianapolis, San Antonio, and other cities. (See Education Week, Nov. 25 and Sept. 16, 1992.)

Like the other privately funded programs, PAVE was created to give poor families the chance to choose private over public schools.

The survey found that about half of the participating families were white, about one-third were African-American, and 13 percent were Hispanic.

Only one-third of the children had previously attended public schools. An overwhelming 95 percent of the parents said frustration with public schools was the main reason for seeking the vouchers.

More Help Urged

Ninety percent of the parents said they were satisfied with their school choice. Even those who were dissatisfied said they liked the voucher program over all.

"Low-income minority parents are taking advantage of this opportunity to become educational advocates for their children,'' wrote Maureen Wahl, the report's author.

The report urged the program's developers to come up with a way to help very poor families who cannot afford the half of private school tuition that PAVE does not cover. It suggests that such parents earn tuition credits by working part time at their child's school.

Daniel M. McKinley, the executive director of PAVE, said the program is considering such as option.

This year, the program has expanded to provide 2,460 students with $1.7 million in aid, he said.

Hundreds of children are now in their second year of the program, and only 185 students who were expected to return are no longer participating. Most of those have moved or their families' income has increased to the point where they are no longer eligible for the scholarships, he said.

Some 1,860 children are on PAVE's waiting list, Mr. McKinley added.

"If we had $1 million more to give, that $1 million would be gone tomorrow,'' he said.

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