One of the favorite themes of Democrats opposed to private school choice programs is that participating schools that accept state voucher payments are somehow unaccountable. A new report, “Accountability in Action,” being released Tuesday by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) and School Choice Wisconsin (SCW) shows that, not only are the schools being held accountable, the process is weeding out the lower performing schools.

The report shows how the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) holds private schools participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) accountable: DPI withholds payments from choice schools, DPI removes schools from the MPCP program, and DPI denies schools entry into the MPCP.

From the Accountability in Action report by WILL and SCW

From the Accountability in Action report.

“For years we’ve heard that voucher schools are completely unaccountable or unregulated,” CJ Szafir, the vice president for policy at WILL said in a presentation of the report Monday. “For the first time we’ve actually been able to obtain DPI state data to document how there’s been a number of schools that have been kicked out of the program, had their payments because they couldn’t meet various state laws related to accountability.”

“It’s a clear debunking of a talking point that many opponents of school choice use, as well as some in the media,” Szafir said.

Since 2003-04, the earliest year data was available, DPI removed 57 schools from the MPCP program. The top three reasons were accreditation issues, not passing the financial audit, and not keeping up with the reports required by DPI. Another 33 schools since 2007-08 were denied entry into the MPCP program by DPI due to accreditation and budget issues.

The report also showed that most of the schools removed from MPCP program joined the program early before accountability measures were put in place. No school that has joined the MPCP since 2009 has been removed from the program by DPI.

The second part of the report showed that the schools removed from the program were also the lowest academic achieving schools.

“Academic quality is the single best predictor of whether a school will leave the program,” said Will Flanders, director of research for WILL. “Schools that are of low academic quality fail at a very high rate.”

“No schools in the highest level of academic quality failed over the time frame of our analysis,” Flanders said.

The relationship between poor performance and removal from the program is even stronger when examining those schools that were removed by DPI rather than leaving the program on their own. Those reasons for removal include being unable to pass the financial audit or filing their paperwork properly. Those schools also tend to be underperforming academically.

“Which makes sense,” Flanders said. “If you’re a poor business manager, that probably has spill-over affects into your education environment in the classroom.”

Finally, parents are also holding voucher schools accountable, especially for the safety of the students. The report shows that as the number of 911 calls increase at a school, enrollment decreases.

“Academic quality is highly related to safety,” Flanders said. “If you’re in a school that is safer, it tends to be a school where kids can pay attention and not worry about being in danger. It tends to make a better learning environment.”

“Even though parents of students are choosing schools for religious reasons, primarily for safety reasons, the effect of that, the outcome of that is they’re ending up in schools with higher academic quality,” Flanders said.