A U.S. representative from Wisconsin wants a federal review of Milwaukee’s long-running school voucher program, according to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Vouchers allow qualifying students, generally from low-income families, to use public funds toward tuition at private schools, including religious ones.
Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat, has asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to compare a number of outcomes between the voucher-receiving schools and local public schools, including academic achievement, accountability, and special education services. The U.S. Department of Justice is also looking into Wisconsin’s voucher programs following complaints in 2011 that they weren’t serving enough students with disabilities.
The GAO reviewed Milwaukee’s voucher program once before in 2001. Enough time has passed since then that a new study is warranted, Pocan told the Journal Sentinel:
We'd like to know what the strengths and weaknesses of the program are. [...] As other states look at expanding (voucher) programs, it makes sense to have an objective study by a respected, nonpartisan agency."
The head of a voucher advocacy group, School Choice Wisconsin, says Pocan’s actions are motivated by politics. The Journal Sentinel reports that teachers’ unions have backed Pocan in important elections, and teachers’ unions are often against vouchers, saying such programs funnel money away from public schools.
Wisconsin has one of the oldest and largest modern-day school voucher programs in the country, so the debate over the role of vouchers in education is deep-rooted.
An October analysis by the Wisconsin State Journal found that over the past decade, the state has spent around $139 million on school vouchers to pay tuition for students attending private schools that were eventually disqualified from the state’s program.
But the Madison, Wis.-based newspaper also found that a little over 50 low-performing public schools in Milwaukee, where no more than 10 percent of students tested proficient on state exams, cost the taxpayers around $361 million in 2013 alone.
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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.