After the 1980s, school choice and vouchers became an important issue and an essential part of the American’s educational system. It provoked debates concerning the influence of vouchers and choice programs on the quality of education in public and private schools.
The debates are based on ideological differences between market proponents, who suggest that individual choice has a great importance to improve the quality of education, and supporters of a publicly run educational system, who emphasize the importance of equity, commonality, and public accountability (Carnoy, Adamson & Chudgar, 2007).
The introduction of the choice programs and vouchers provoked a competition among traditional public schools and one of the basic questions related to the choice programs deals with the problem of positive or negative consequences of this competition.
The central areas of the educational process and reform are leadership, quality of teachers’ performance, policy quality of academic education and school choice. Many are concerned that quality of education seeks improvement, as well as many wealthier parents claim that they are not satisfied with the residential school and enroll their children in private schools which are considered to provide better quality of education.
At the same time, poorer families have no possibilities to send their children in private schools. Thus, in order to make education equal for all children, a solution to introduce government-funded vouchers for low-income families was provided. In addition, this decision was aimed also at improving education in public schools as they would have to compete for pupils which would be a motivation for improvement.
The introduction of the voucher program was essential for the American educational system. It provided the opportunity to enhance the quality of education as a whole. First of all, voucher programs influence public schools’ academic performance and make them compete between each other. Second, it provided American low-income families with the opportunity to send their children get high quality education in private schools.
Finally, parents who were not satisfied with teachers, courses, attitudes or child’s performance in the school, could change the school for more appropriate one. In fact, parents preferred participation on choice programs for many other reasons, such as many of them claimed that MPS teachers did not pay attention to teaching moral and values, many were dissatisfied with the class sizes or were concerned with the safety of their children in public schools.
Parental Choice Programs attracted attention to these issues and public schools became more concerned with organization, teachers’ proficiency and curriculum provided in their schools, “Milwaukee schools, as well as schools in Chicago, Philadelphia, San Diego, Boston, and other major cities launched by teachers and principals who had ideas about how schools could be organized” (Darling-Hammond, 2010, p. 215).
The first parent choice program was the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program which started in Wisconsin in 1990. The goal of the program was to provide law-income families in Milwaukee with vouchers to attend private schools. These days, this program is one of the largest in the United States.
These days, it includes 390 K-12 schools in Milwaukee: 254 public, 136 private, 263 Elementary, 219 Middle Schools, 114 High Schools, 360 Preschool Schools participating in the voucher program.
It began with only 5 private schools, but in 1997, the program’s activities were expanded to include religious schools. By the end of 2008, more than 20,000 student participants attend 122 private schools. In order to be eligible for vouchers, students should live in Milwaukee and have a household less than 175% of federal poverty level or equal to this percentage.
The provide schools that want to participate in the program should be either secular or religious and accredited. In addition, they must also administer test in reading, math and science at various grade levels according to national norms and cannot charge additional tuition fees on top of the voucher amount (Costrell, 2010, p. 4).
The program is considered to impact state and public funds. The fiscal impact is distributed among the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) and property taxpayers, “Despite likely net benefits for taxpayers as a whole, Milwaukee property taxpayers have been adversely affected, due to the specific nature of the funding formula adopted for the MPCP” (Costrell, 2010, p. 2).
As a result, in 2009, the size of the MPCP voucher was cut from $6,607 $6,442. The elimination of the “funding law” can provide benefits for taxpayers. The cut of the voucher’s amount allowed saving of $3,571 from state and local funds which allowed increasing the net of fiscal benefits from the program.
The program has provoked much debate concerning the influence on the quality of education, as well as on academic success of students who participate in the program and the ones who enroll in public schools, and the effect of the program on reading math and scores. According to recent survey, program has positive influence on academic success of students who enroll in Milwaukee Parental Choice Program: they have high graduation rates and they are more likely to go on to four-year College.
The three studies that evaluated the achievements of students of the Choice Program sad shown conflict results: the first study by Witte, Sterr, and Thorn (1995), showed that there were no considerable achievements among students, the second one by Greene, Peterson, and Du (1997), showed that students had considerable achievements in reading and math scores by the end of the fourth year, and the third study by Rouse estimated that students experienced faster gains in math scores, but not in reading (Rouse, 1998).
The distinction of the results lies in the fact that scientists applied different methods and different categories of students without taking into consideration students’ educational backgrounds.
The recent rigorous studies on the effect of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program on students’ achievements in Milwaukee Public Schools has showed that the program had a positive effect not only on participating students, but on student’s achievements in public schools due to the competition provoked by the introduction of the voucher system (.Greene & Marsh, 2009).
Providing the analysis of the previously described research, we can conclude that the academic success of the students who participate in the choice program and the ones who attend public schools does not depend on the fact of participation in the program, rather on the fact that the introduction of the program enables public schools compete for students and thus, improve their educational programs.
In addition, “that parental involvement in the choice schools was greater than that of parents of children in the Milwaukee public schools” (Rouse, 1998, p. 46).
Apart from the benefits provided by the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, there are still opponents who debate the influence of the program on the quality of education in public schools, as well as on students’ performance in private schools, “little as a result of competition, with short-lived upturns in scores generally balanced by downturns.
By 2006, only 39% of Milwaukee tenth graders in the public school system scored proficient in reading” (Darling-Hammond, 2010, p. 269). According to study provided by Martin Carnoy, Frank Adamson and Amita Chudgar, (2007) “Even after more than 80 years the school district expanded the voucher program, it is still not possible to measure whether voucher students in Milwaukee perform better or worse than their counterparts who remain in public schools” (Darling-Hammond, 2010, p. 5).
But the fact that educational choice induced competition among public schools that led to the improvement of the quality of education both in private and public schools cannot be argued. Moreover, the same research shows that pupils in Milwaukee public schools with more choice possibilities nearby made significantly greater year-to-year gains in school tests than pupils in other public schools (Carnoy, Adamson & Chudgar, 2007).
Despite all debates around the students’ academic performance in Milwaukee private and public schools that either participate in the Parental Choice Program or not, the evidences show that providing vouchers for students from low-income families can help increase the quality of public, as well as private education.
The ultimate goal of the program was to provide low-income students with the possibility to get quality education and choose schools, however, the result of introduction of this program caused bigger effect. It provided a great opportunity to improve the quality of education in public schools since it became a main reason to establish competition among them to hold students.
Carnoy, M. Adamson, F., & Chudgar, A. (2007). Vouchers and Public School Performance: A Case Study of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.EPI book.
Costrell, R. M. (2010). The Fiscal Impact of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program: 2010-2011 Update and Policy Options. School Choice Demonstration Project. Retrieved from: http://www.uaedreform.org/
Darling-Hammond, L. (2010). The Flat World and Education: How America’s commitment to equity will determine our future. New York: Teachers College Press.
Greene, J. P. & Marsh, R. H. (2009). The Effect of Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program on Student Achievement in Milwaukee Public Schools. SCDP Comprehensive Longitudinal Evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. Retrieved from: http://www.uaedreform.org/
Rouse, C. E. (1998). Schools and Student Achievement: More Evidence from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. FRBNY ECONOMIC POLICY REVIEW. p.p. 61 – 79. Retrieved from: https://www.newyorkfed.org/medialibrary/media/research/epr/98v04n1/9803rous.pdf