Later today, Governor Tony Evers will announce a budget that includes a host of measures to prevent low-income families from being able to choose private school options for their kids. On the heels of this news, it is more important than ever to promote positive stories on the benefits of school choice for Milwaukee, and the state of Wisconsin as a whole.
A new study from Corey DeAngelis and Patrick Wolf does just that. This research, a follow-up to their 2016 study on the crime impacts of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), adds additional years of data and new character measures related to the likelihood that students would become involved in paternity suits. It compares the outcomes for students who participated in the choice program in 2006 with a statistically-matched sample of students who attended Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). Outside of experimental methods, samples matched in this manner represent the strongest technique in determining causal effects.
For males participating in the program, the results are staggering. Going to an MPCP school was associated with a 53 percent reduction in drug-related offenses and an 87 percent reduction in property damage offenses in comparison to the matched sample of MPS students. In terms of paternity suits, males participating in the MPCP saw a 42 percent reduction in the likelihood of being involved in such a suit, and females a 34 percent reduction.
In a previous study, we estimated the economic benefits to Milwaukee from the 2016 study at $500 million. If this analysis were to be conducted again, the stronger effects observed in the follow-up would serve to increase the economic benefits even more.
But more important than the financial benefits are the tangible impacts that these improved outcomes can have for individual students. The city of Milwaukee struggles with a high crime rate. Young African American men, who represent a significant portion of the students that make up the Milwaukee choice program face higher rates of incarceration than any other group in the state.
Whether through religious teachings, different discipline policies or some other method, private schools appear to be much more effective at building character than traditional public schools. This is consistent with other research, which has found that students in choice programs are more charitable than students who attend public schools, and have greater political tolerance and civic skills.
But perhaps the best evidence is in the schools that we regularly visit as part of our work. Regularly, we encounter students with a firm commitment to improving themselves and their community, and convictions founded in their faith about right and wrong. Many of these students come from the most difficult circumstances. These schools often serve as a safe refuge in a world that is in a constant state of upheaval around them.
Rather than doing the bidding of the teacher’s unions from afar, I would challenge Evers to visit these schools, look these students in the eye, and tell them exactly why he wants to rob them of the opportunity for a better life.
Dr. Will Flanders is the research director for the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.