Despite the efforts of Governor Tony Evers and Wisconsin Democrats to end school choice, the evidence continues to build on the positive effects of the program. The most recent evidence in a new study from the Urban Institute is arguably some of the most important so far.
Using rigorous research methods, the study found that students in Milwaukee’s school choice program are more likely to enroll in, and graduate from, four year colleges.
This study is a follow-on to the School Choice Demonstration Project that was commissioned by the state of Wisconsin in the mid 2000s. Researchers from the University of Arkansas tracked the progress of students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) along with a matched sample of students in traditional public schools. The matching method used here allows for the best measure of the true effect of an intervention outside of lotteries, which didn’t occur in Milwaukee.
There are two sets of results in the study, one for students that were in 9th grade at baseline and one for students who were in 3rd through 8th grade. Among 9th graders, effects were found on enrollment but not on graduation. Among 3rd through 8th graders, the study also found an effect on enrollment. They find that 50 percent of MPCP students in this group enrolled in college compared to 45 percent of Milwaukee Public Schools students. This difference was statistically significant.
The most compelling finding, however, is when the researchers examined college graduation. By April of 2019 when the data was collected, 11 percent of MPCP students in their sample had graduated from a four-year college, compared with 8 percent of students in the public school control group. In other words, MPCP students were 38 percent more likely to graduate from four-year colleges than their public school peers.
Last year’s version of this study found that students in the MPCP were more likely to enroll in college, but not to graduate. It appears that an additional year of data has had a dramatic effect on the findings.
This study adds to a growing amount of research showing positive life effects of the voucher program. Research has found that Milwaukee’s choice students are less likely to become involved in criminal activity, and less likely to become involved in paternity lawsuits if they attend a school in the MPCP.
College graduation may correlate to some of these other positive findings, as research has found that college graduates tend to have higher income, job satisfaction, better health, and personal satisfaction. The bottom line is that school choice doesn’t just expose kids to different schools, it appears to be exposing them to better schools on average.
The governor and his allies, quite simply, do not like the evidence that school choice is leading to better outcomes for students. When the governor talks about ending school choice, it is vital that policymakers defending the program come armed with evidence like that presented in the Urban Institute study.
School choice is a doorway to new opportunities for some of Wisconsin’s kids that are in most need of help, and school choice supporters must never allow the governor to slam it shut.
Will Flanders is the Research Director at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.