In Wisconsin, it’s easy to tout numbers and figures, and explain how the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) leads to higher academic performance and graduation rates and lower crime rates. But the true success of the MPCP is changing lives like that of Kenya Green.
Kenya grew up moving back and forth between New Orleans and Milwaukee for her mother’s jobs. Her mother was a single parent, but Kenya, her older brother and her mom lived in many different houses with many different family members. “It just depended on the year really,” Kenya said. By the time she was in middle school she felt very disconnected not only socially, but academically in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). “I struggled to know what was expected of me,” Kenya said. “There really were no rules.”
Kenya knew she wasn’t getting a lot out of her education at MPS.
“I always felt disappointed because I wanted a challenge. I wanted to feel like I was learning something,” Kenya said. “I wanted my teachers to care about my education. But they didn’t.”
When she got to eighth grade in Milwaukee, she wanted to attend a better high school and took the entrance exams for prestigious MPS schools like Rufus King and Riverside, but failed. The only options she was left with were schools like North Division and South Division, “Places that you see on the news for fighting,” she said. “Places that aren’t even focused on education anymore.”
Kenya needed another option. So when HOPE Christian Schools gave a presentation to her eighth grade class, she immediately went home and had her mom fill out the paperwork.
“I felt like they spoke to me,” she said. “They said small class sizes. Customized education. They talked about character and values, instilling things in you so you could go out and have a career after your education.”
HOPE made it very clear in their presentation that they focus on getting their students accepted into college, which is something Kenya hadn’t considered before. She had seen her mom struggle to attend college, which in the end didn’t work out. “Something would always stop her from being able to go,” Kenya said. One time her mom’s car was stolen and when they found the car her mom’s backpack with her books and assignments in it was missing from the trunk. “The institution couldn’t do anything for her. She had to withdraw from class,” she said.
Kenya qualified for the MPCP which allowed her to choose the school she would attend. She chose HOPE Christian High School. But when she first got there, it wasn’t easy. “I went from a place where I was basically able to do whatever I want, wear whatever I want, say whatever I want — to a place that has uniforms, that has all these rules, all of these expectations,” Kenya said. “I hadn’t been required to do homework or write papers.”
But Kenya soon realized that HOPE was a place where she could succeed.
“Once I made it past the struggle of learning how to be in a structured environment, I realized that all the people around me really wanted to see me do really well,” she said. “They pushed us, my classmates and myself, to become something greater than just a product of our environment.”
After HOPE, Kenya attended Wisconsin Lutheran College and she was prepared to succeed once again. “Hope had taught us to be responsible. How to prioritize our work. How to put quality into our work,” she said.
After four years she graduated with her bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in psychology. This was not only an accomplishment for Kenya, but for her mother too. “She raised someone who was able to go and get something that she wasn’t able to attain,” Kenya said. “So I did that not only for myself but for my mother.”
Four months after her graduation, Kenya’s mom passed away and Kenya became the full time guardian of her eight-year-old brother. “So I now have him watching me and I’m trying to raise him up to know that his education is important.”
Along with caring for her brother, her first year postgrad she taught at HOPE Christian schools and now she is attending school again to become an aesthetician. Kenya has experienced the voucher program as a student, a teacher and now she is going to enroll her little brother in the program.
Students like Kenya are reflected in the numbers released this week in a study on the economic benefits of school choice from my WILL colleague, Will Flanders. In the study, Flanders found that expanding the voucher program would lead to a $3.2 billion increase in the Wisconsin economy over two decades because students who attend a voucher school are more likely to attend college, receive a higher-paying job and therefore have increased consumer spending than the average student from public schools.
“Having the voucher and being able to attend HOPE Christian High School provided me a life. It gave me something no one in my family had had the chance to do,” Kenya said. “The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program gave me the opportunity to put myself on a path to success instead of a path to poverty.”
Cori Petersen is a writer and research analyst at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty. Reposted with permission.