Review exposes faults in Walton family study calling for more private charters

WEAC partners with the Great Lakes Center to share and provide academically sound reviews of education-related studies. WEAC President Ron Martin sits on the Great Lakes Board of Directors and shares this academic review exposing a so-called study funded by the Walton Family Foundation calling for more privately run charter school funding in New York City.

Review exposes faults in Walton family study calling for more private charters

They wrongly assume charters, public schools provide same services, so should get same funding

Across America, privately run charter schools receive public school funding but in most cases fall behind public schools when it comes to student performance. Yet, in Wisconsin and beyond, some policymakers support funding for these charter schools as a way to expand school choice.

A recent study promoting privately run charter schools uses flawed methods and conclusions – and policymakers are strongly urged not to rely on the faulty claims when making public policy.

Read the Review

Charter School Funding: Inequity in New York City claims New York City charter schools receive 19 percent less funding than district schools. The authors used 2014 data to say there is a $4,888 per pupil funding gap between charter schools and district schools. The authors fail to acknowledge that New York is giving charter schools an increase in per-pupil funding in 2018.

The report also assumes charter schools and district schools provide similar services, so both should receive equal funding. The report fails to demonstrate how these schools are equal and excludes important school data such as enrollment numbers. For example, the report doesn’t consider that students who need special education services are more likely to enroll in district schools than charter schools and it costs more to provide those services to students.

Finally, the authors of the flawed report validate their findings with previous reports they have written themselves, making their approach biased. Even though there is already a large body of research, the authors do not cite any existing independent research or reports.

The review was conducted by the National Education Policy Center.

Find WEAC resources on voucher schools at

Expansion of unproven, unaccountable private school vouchers harms public schools and raises taxes, analysis finds

School voucher programs – including the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) – divert much-needed funding away from public schools when they are expanded, according to a new policy memo by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The peer-reviewed memo, Assessing the Fiscal Impact of Wisconsin’s Statewide Voucher Program, examines the fiscal impact of the WPCP and how it affects public schools.

The analysis found that if WPCP were expanded, public school funding would decline and taxpayers would be burdened with extra costs. This report is timely because Wisconsin policymakers are looking at expanding WPCP to more students in the state of Wisconsin.

“This national research is worth paying attention to, and cautions other states not to go down the same road as Wisconsin in terms of unaccountable private school vouchers,” said WEAC President Ron Martin. “If policymakers are really interested in improving education, they should invest in the public schools that serve all students.”

The research outlines the sad reality: as the statewide program expands, the reduction to local school districts increase. The statewide program is already distributing tens of millions of dollars for private school tuition. The research expressly recommends Wisconsin not increase the income limit on the program to allow wealthier families to receive tuition subsidies – however that’s just what the governor’s budget signed in late September did.

“The available evidence suggests that policymakers across the country should think carefully before emulating Wisconsin’s statewide voucher program in their own states,” the author says.

While the policy memo acknowledges there is still more research that is needed, the memo urges policymakers to consider the repercussions of further transferring public school funding to private schools. There is limited evidence on the effectiveness of voucher programs. Despite the lack of proven results, voucher and voucher-like programs across the country continue to expand and grow.

The new policy memo found expanding the statewide Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) could worsen disparities in public school funding. It concludes:

  • Policymakers should think cautiously about whether the limited benefits of voucher programs outweigh the unintended consequences to our public schools.
  • Voucher and voucher-like programs divert much-needed funding from public schools and redirect it to private schools where, in some cases, there is little accountability or evidence to support expansion.
  • If state policymakers expand voucher programs, this could increase the tax burden of citizens, especially those living in rural communities and small school districts with fewer students.
  • Policymakers should focus on what already works, which is strengthening public schools and ensuring school districts have the resources they need to adequately prepare students for the future.
    • There is no clear evidence that demonstrates students who receive vouchers and attend private schools perform better than students who attend public schools.
    • Voucher programs, in most cases, do not empower low-income families to choose schools that they would not otherwise attend, since many voucher recipients have already attended private schools prior to receiving vouchers.
    • Many private schools do not provide special education or other services that public schools are required to provide, which is a significant cost for public schools.
  • To promote high-quality education and funding equity, the policy memo urges policymakers to carefully rethink expanding or replicating the WPCP.
    • The author of the policy memo recommends that Wisconsin policymakers maintain the income threshold for voucher program participation at 185 percent of the federal poverty level, instead of increasing it to the proposed 300 percent income limit.
    • To protect funding for public school districts, the author recommends keeping the enrollment cap at one percent in each district and using a lottery to determine participation.
    • Finally, the author recommends funding the WPCP through the state’s general-purpose revenue, paying for statewide school vouchers through state taxes instead of placing the burden on taxpayers living in communities where students receive vouchers.

“More than ever,” the analysis concludes, “many public schools struggle with inadequate funding. As voucher programs expand, this could mean less money for public schools in communities where students receive school vouchers to attend private schools.”

There are currently 33,775 students enrolled in Wisconsin’s school voucher programs. Two percent of students in each district could enroll in WPCP and the enrollment cap will expand by one percent through 2026 when the cap is eliminated. The memo found if the program expands, it could shift millions of dollars in public school funding to the WPCP and private schools.

Find the report on the Great Lakes Center website:

This report can also found on the NEPC website:

NAACP calls for elimination of for-profit charter schools

In a highly anticipated report, the NAACP Wednesday called for elimination of for-profit charter schools and more equitable funding for all schools serving students of color.

“No federal, state, or local taxpayer dollars should be used to fund for-profit charter schools, nor should public funding be sent from nonprofit charters to for-profit charter management companies,” the organization says in its report titled Quality Education for All: One School at a Time. “The widespread findings of misconduct and poor student performance in for-profit charter schools demand the elimination of these schools. Moreover, allowing for-profit entities to operate schools creates an inherent conflict of interest.”

The Task Force also recommends:

  • More equitable and adequate funding for all schools serving students of color. Education funding has been inadequate and unequal for students of color for hundreds of years. The United States has one of the most unequal school funding systems of any country in the industrialized world. Resources are highly unequal across states, across districts, and across schools, and they have declined in many communities over the last decade. In 36 states, public school funding has not yet returned to pre-2008 levels – before the great recession, and in many states, inner city schools have experienced the deepest cuts. Federal funds have also declined in real dollar terms for both Title I and for special education expenditures over the last decade.
  • School finance reform. To solve the quality education problems that are at the root of many of the issues, school finance reform is essential to ensure that resources are allocated according to student needs. States should undertake the kinds of weighted student formula reforms that Massachusetts and California have pursued, and the federal government should fully enforce the funding-equity provisions in Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
  • Investing in low-performing schools and schools with significant opportunity to close the achievement gap. Students learn in safe, supportive, and challenging learning environments under the tutelage of well-prepared, caring adults. Participants in every hearing stressed the importance of the type of classroom investments that have consistently been shown to raise student achievement. To ensure that all students receive a high-quality education, federal, state, and local policies need to sufficiently invest in:
    • (1) incentives that attract and retain fully qualified educators,
    • (2) improvements in instructional quality that include creating challenging and inclusive learning environments; and
    • (3) wraparound services for young people, including early childhood education, health and mental health services, extended learning time, and social supports.
  • Mandate a rigorous authoring and renewal process for charters. One way that states and districts can maintain accountability for charter schools is through their regulation of the organizations that authorize charter schools. States with the fewest authorizers have been found to have the strongest charter school outcomes. To do this, states should allow only districts to serve as authorizers, empower those districts to reject applications that do not meet standards, and establish policies for serious and consistent oversight.


NAACP seeks to ban for-profit charter schools and increase local control – Education Votes

Tell lawmakers it’s time for tougher standards and more oversight and accountability for charter schools. Click here › The NAACP, one of the nation’s most prominent civil rights groups, released a major report on charter schools today.


NAACP report finds ‘wide range of problems’ with charter schools

NAACP REPORT FINDS ‘WIDE RANGE OF PROBLEMS’ WITH CHARTER SCHOOLS: After calling for a moratorium on charter school expansion last year, the NAACP today is releasing a highly anticipated report that calls for the elimination of for-profit charter school operators.

Eau Claire School Board passes resolutions opposing referendum restrictions and supporting voucher transparency

The Eau Claire Area School Board, under the leadership of WEAC member and School Board President Chris Hambuch-Boyle, has passed resolutions asking state legislators and the governor to oppose measures that would restrict the ability of school boards to raise money through referendums and to support the Wisconsin Voucher Taxpayer Transparency Bill.

The referendum resolution notes that due to state-imposed revenue limits, school districts often must rely on referendums to “stay viable.”  The proposed referendum restrictions would disproportionately affect declining-enrollment districts and poorer districts, especially rural districts, the school board says.

“Many of these districts have come to rely on periodic referenda to maintain programming and, in some cases, to continue to exist,” it notes.

It asks legislators and the governor “to oppose these pieces of legislation that would further curtail the already very limited set of revenue options available to Wisconsin school boards.”

The Eau Claire School Board resolution supporting the Voucher Taxpayer Transparency Bill notes that the measure would require that property tax bills include information about any reductions in state aid resulting in pupils enrolling in the private school voucher programs. It notes that the increase in statewide property taxes due to school boards levying to offset lost aid due to the voucher program was more than $25 million in 2016-17 and is expected to grow to $37 million in 2017-18 and to $47 million in 2018-19.

Read the Eau Claire School Board resolution on school referendums:

Resolution Opposing Anti Local Control School Referendum Restriction Bills.pdf

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Read the Eau Claire School Board resolution on voucher accountability:

Resolution Support of Voucher Transparency Bill.pdf

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Report says virtual schools need to be improved before expanding

Students in virtual schools are, overall, not performing well, and policymakers should focus on analyzing and improving virtual education before allowing expansion of these schools, according to a new report.

The report by the Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute is based on in-depth analysis of virtual education in five states, including Wisconsin. It found, for example, that in 2015-16 Wisconsin had 26 virtual schools enrolling 6,424 students, and two-thirds of the virtual schools that were rated received unacceptable performance ratings according to state standards.

The analysis also found that Wisconsin virtual schools had far more students per teacher (31.9 on average) compared with state norms (14.9 students per teacher) and national norms (16.1 students per teacher). Connections Academy reported having 42 students per teacher.

The report concluded that:

  • Policymakers need to slow or stop the growth in the number of virtual schools and the size of their enrollments until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed. They should prioritize understanding why virtual schools perform poorly under a college- and career-ready accountability system and how their performance can be improved prior to expansion.
  • Policymakers need to create long-term programs to support independent research on and evaluation of virtual and blended schooling.
  • Policymakers need to develop new funding formulas based on the actual costs of operating virtual schools and new accountability structures for virtual schools, including guidelines and governance mechanisms to ensure that virtual schools do not prioritize profit over student performance. Further policymakers need to assess the contributions of various providers to student achievement, and close virtual schools and programs that do not contribute to student growth.
  • Policymakers need to define certification training and relevant teacher licensure requirements specific to teaching responsibilities in virtual schools, require research-based professional development to promote effective online teaching models, and work with emerging research to develop valid and comprehensive teacher evaluation rubrics that are specific to online teaching.

Read the entire report (the Wisconsin section begins on Page 14):

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Teacher asks legislators to put voucher program to a statewide vote

La Crosse teacher John Havlicek asked legislators Wednesday to put the private school voucher program to a statewide vote. In testimony before the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee at a hearing in Ellsworth, Havlicek first read the names of nearly 100 people whose testimony supporting public education over vouchers was given to him to present to the committee (read some of that testimony here). Then he said:

“Nowhere in the history of our state – in the history of our country – has the public ever actually voted to approve vouchers, opportunity scholarships, or whatever we’re calling them. The research is clear, these (vouchers) do not benefit those students, they do not benefit those schools, other than their bottom line, and they hurt public education.

“If you’re so confident that we should have vouchers in Wisconsin, that we should be increasing the funding and that the voucher program should be expanded, I would ask you to put it to a statewide referendum. Put it to a vote!”

State Senator Lena Taylor posted this video on her Facebook page:

The Wisconsin Public Education Network posted this image of the binder holding testimony from 86 people supporting public education:


Educators, parents ask legislators to prioritize public schools over vouchers in state budget

Educators and parents are asking members of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to provide more funding for public schools that educate all children and pull back funding for private voucher schools.

“I am very concerned that there is an increase in funding for the unaccountable voucher program in the budget,” La Crosse teacher Mary Ender Stutesman writes in testimony presented to the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee. “The voucher system with its lack of accountability – not only for the quality of education received by students but for the quality of teaching practiced there – does not improve our democratic goal of quality education for all.”

Stutesman was among several La Crosse Education Association members who presented written testimony. The Joint Finance Committee is re-writing Governor Walker’s state budget proposal and is conducting hearings this month.

“I am a firm believer in public education, and it pains me to see more money taken away from the public school system and given to the voucher system,” writes La Crosse teacher Lisa Colburn. “The public schools serve all students, regardless of their income, their ability or their disadvantages. Voucher schools not only pick and choose their students, they also remove students who struggle in their system. Those students are sent back to the public schools, where educators as always do their best to educate those students.”

In addition, Colburn added, students who attend voucher schools “do worse on standardized tests than their public school peers,” and many voucher schools have shut down, “taking state money and leaving the children behind.”

La Crosse teacher Bryan Morris asks legislators to provide equity in school funding. “By using the per-pupil funding method, you will be leaving our neediest districts and students behind,” he writes. “Please consider funding based upon needs rather than a one-size-fits-all method.”

“Each year our budgets are tighter and tighter, and the priority of education can no longer focus on what is best for kids because districts are struggling to pay the basic necessities such as lights, heat, bus transportation and office supplies,” writes La Crosse teacher Rose Kulig. “Despite tight budgets and high needs, we find money that used to be used for public schools being used to support vouchers to fund private schools that used to operate without the use of tax dollars. To me it seems our current situation will only get worse as more money is allocated for vouchers and less for public schools.”

La Crosse teacher Eric Martin writes that since 2010 in particular, “budgets have been brutal, and teachers have been asked to do more than ever while simultaneously acting as a political punching bag.”

“It is a testament to the excellence of our state’s educators that districts like ours in La Crosse have been able to still serve their students at a high level with the care that students deserve.”

Martin noted that fewer young people are going into the teaching profession and it’s not very difficult to connect the dots between that trend and “the way public education has been vilified by many in Wisconsin.”

“Wisconsin students deserve better from their state than they have received over much of the past decade,” Martin writes. “Wisconsin’s public schools have always been among the very best in the United States. We must continue to invest in them and pursue wise policies which will keep them that way for the sake of our most precious resource – our young people.”

La Crosse teacher Chad Wilkinson writes that he has taught in both the public and private school systems and that “one of the things that made teaching easier in the private school system was the ability to remove the worst kids, the kids that were tough to educate, and send them to the public school system.”

“Vouchers take money from the institution that needs it the most. In the public system, we get ‘those’ kids. We work hard to get them to graduate and succeed.”

La Crosse teacher Daniel Kaczmarowski notes that the governor’s budget proposal increases vouchers by $217 per pupil while increasing funding for public school students by only $200 per pupil. “If it is decided to continue down the road of funding more and more voucher students, our public schools will suffer as the state will not be able to afford its obligation, and districts will have to cut services for students. Stop throwing my tax dollars to (private) schools that, on average, achieve the same or worse than our excellent public schools in Wisconsin.”

La Crosse parent Andrew Stutesman writes that he is troubled by the “meager increase contained in the budget for public schools that educate every child.”

“This increase does not keep pace with inflation, while costs go up every year,” he writes. “Every year we have more students, with more profound challenges, that need more support. Yet, every year we end up decreasing that support. We have fewer social workers, fewer guidance counselors, fewer librarians, and fewer enrichment programs such as world languages and the arts. …

“I urge you to create a budget that does what government is supposed to do: provide for the least among us so that they, too, can participate in the American dream: a cultural, social, economic, and political success of our wonderful state!”

Wausau teacher Robert Hughes also emphasizes the need to support public education.

“Public schools are the one place in society where everyone gets a seat at the table,” Hughes writes. “People with diverse backgrounds have a right to a quality education, from certified public education teachers. We can make Wisconsin strong again by fully funding public schools, and breaking down barriers for the next generation.”

Democrats propose taxpayer oversight of voucher spending increases

From Senators Bewley and Miller and Representatives Pope and Hintz 

Bill would require referendum before funds could be diverted to private schools at property taxpayer expense 

Four Democratic budget and education leaders lauded voters for supporting public education in districts across the state and called for the same control over new spending at taxpayer-funded voucher schools that voters currently have over public schools.

“Schools districts across Wisconsin are forced to go to referendum time and again just to keep the lights on in schools that have served generations of Wisconsinites very well,” said Sen. Janet Bewley (D-Delta). “Our bill would give property taxpayers the final say on whether they want to be on the hook for tax dollars taken directly out of public schools to fund voucher operations.”

The legislators plan to introduce legislation requiring a referendum to pass before voucher schools can take state aid out of a public school district. The 2015 state budget changed state law to divert state funding to vouchers schools, at a rate much higher per student than public schools receive. The legislators believe voters deserve the same referendum oversight they have over public schools when property taxpayers are liable to face increases because voucher payments are being siphoned off.

“Our Republican colleagues decided to expand the voucher program into every corner of the state on the backs of property taxpayers,” said Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona). “This bill would make voucher operators and their lobbyists answerable to voters before property taxpayers are forced to make up the difference.”

Under Gov. Walker’s proposed state budget, school districts would lose $7,700 to $8,400 per student in general state aid to voucher schools by 2019. The legislators noted figures from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau showing that public school students receive only $6,700 on average, meaning voucher schools are taking more out of public schools per student than state aid puts in.

“As state legislators we are responsible for state funding of public education. When we pointed out that voucher schools were receiving much more from the state per student than our public schools, voucher supporters were quick to shift attention to property taxes,” said Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Mount Horeb). “Public schools have made the case to property taxpayers in referendum after referendum and the voucher industry should be able to do the same.”

Additional figures from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau show that districts are losing $25.5 million to voucher schools this year alone.

“Under the last budget, Republicans changed state law to require that local property taxpayers now have to pay for private school tuition. In addition, three out of four of these private school students were already enrolled in private school before property taxpayers started picking up the tab,“ said Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh). “Public school districts throughout state, including 40 more this week, have gone to voters to raise property taxes. It is only fair that voters have an equal say on whether or not they want their property tax dollars diverted to private school tuition.”

The lawmakers pointed out that communities were forced to go to referendum 225 times since the beginning of 2016. School districts seeking voter approval to exceed revenue caps must provide detailed information on how tax dollars would be spent. The Democratic legislators said their bill will give taxpayers the opportunity to require voucher schools seeking local and state tax dollars to do the same.

Educators have pointed questions for Governor Walker as he visits Milton High School

This letter was written by Michael Dorn, a math teacher at Milton High School and President of the Milton Education Association. It was published in the Janesville Gazette.

Michael Dorn

Today (April 6, 2017), Gov. Scott Walker is scheduled to visit Milton High School. The Milton Education Association has been a local leader opposing Walker’s policies that defund public education and divert badly needed funding from local schools to private voucher schools and private independent charter schools.

Nonetheless, the MEA welcomes the opportunity to demonstrate in Milton to the governor the true value of public education in providing outstanding opportunities for all students.

Despite the anti-union goals of Act 10, the MEA has forged a strong partnership with the Milton School Board and administration. Together, we have created a handbook and a compensation model that clearly demonstrates the high value of our teachers to both our students and our community.

Clearly, the Milton School District has suffered under the anti-public education policies of this administration. When the governor’s Act 10 was passed, public schools in Wisconsin saw decreased funding of $1.6 billion over two years. This year, the private school voucher program drained over $245 million from public schools statewide.

The MEA does support the proposed increase in per pupil state funding for 2017 to 2019. Nonetheless, Milton students (and public school students) continue to perform at or above achievement levels of private voucher schools and independent charter schools, despite the ability of those schools to hand pick their students and exclude students with special needs. The MEA is proud to be the representative of the outstanding public school educators that consistently achieve these results.

The governor will not be meeting with most teachers nor is he scheduled to take questions during his visit. However, questions that local teachers would like to ask him include:

  • “Governor, you have repeatedly said that the state cannot afford to fund public education at 2010 levels. If so, how can the state afford to fund a second system of private voucher schools along with traditional neighborhood public schools?”
  • “Why are we now funding pupils in private voucher schools, 75 percent of whom were previously attending private schools at no cost to the taxpayers?”
  • “Governor, you repeatedly said that Act 10 is working, yet a recent study shows the number students entering teacher-training programs in Wisconsin has declined 28 percent. How can fewer young people wanting to be teachers be a success and good for children?”

The MEA is proud to support public school education in Milton and elsewhere.

‘Voucher expansion not based on evidence,’ research brief concludes

This new WEAC Research Brief concludes that there is little evidence to substantiate the expansion of private voucher schools on the grounds that they are intended to help student achievement: “Research in Wisconsin and other states consistently shows little to no voucher school advantage, and in fact often documents significant ill-effects on students including: school closings, high rates of student attrition for lower-performing students, and decreased assessment scores in math and reading.”

WEAC Research Brief

School voucher proponents long maintained that the dynamic of consumer preference in education would result in improved student outcomes.  Yet after 25 years of voucher schools in Milwaukee, claims of increased student success are difficult to find.  Since its inception in 1990, the Milwaukee program expanded to include religious schools, students already attending private schools, and families with higher incomes than originally established for the program. Today, after more than $1 billion in funding, the Milwaukee voucher program stands as the state’s second largest system, and, recently, vouchers were expanded statewide.

A number of studies examined voucher schools here and nationally as well.  One of the most significant findings about the Milwaukee voucher program to date is that 41 percent of voucher schools failed since the program’s inception. Start-ups and unaffiliated voucher schools were the most likely to falter. The voucher program includes some well-established religious schools, but many fly-by-night operations were allowed to participate.[1]

Failed voucher schools include ones that stole tax dollars, closed mid-year, and refused to pay staff or provide textbooks for students.  Millions in tax dollars were wasted on schools that no longer exist. The academic effects of these school failures on thousands of participating students have not been measured.

Evidence from Milwaukee does not show improved student success

Where voucher schools are operating, evidence does not support the assertion that voucher mechanisms improve student achievement.  Voucher supporters funded a comprehensive five-year study of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) by the School Choice Demonstration Project. In the end, the researchers concluded:

No report . . . has found major differences in achievement test scores between MPCP students and similar MPS [Milwaukee Public Schools] students. The results . . . do not support a comprehensive conclusion that the MPCP necessarily provides a better learning environment than MPS.[2]

Peer-reviewed studies of the Milwaukee program later found evidence that lower- performing students left voucher schools in disproportionate numbers, and that schools with higher percentages of voucher students were more likely to lose students than other private schools in the program.  Another important finding was that children who left voucher schools experienced significant gains when they returned to public schools.

“In general, all students who transfer to the public sector realize significant achievement gains after doing so, although these gains are estimated to be larger for low-performing students than for their higher achieving peers.”[3]

“. . .  Former voucher students exhibit significant achievement increases in both reading and math after they transfer to the public schools. . . . In most cases, the magnitude of these estimates is substantial, comparing favorably to the effects of several well-known interventions, such as class size reduction.”[4]

Graduation rates

Proponents often assert that voucher students graduate at higher rates than public school students. The School Choice Demonstration Project analyzed graduation rates between matched groups of students in the MPCP and MPS. The finding, however, was based on just a partial sample of the original 9th grade MPCP cohort because information for remaining students could not be found, leading one reviewer to state:

Roughly 56% of the original sample of 801 MPCP 9th graders were not still enrolled in a MPCP high school in 12th grade. The inferences drawn about the effects of the MPCP on graduation rates compared with those in the MPS are severely clouded by substantial sample attrition.[5]

Assessing their own findings, the authors conceded: “These rates are calculated excluding unknowns from the denominator,” and that “If unknowns were to be included, the rates would obviously be lower.” About their results, the researchers ultimately concluded:

Ninth grade students who were in the MPCP in 2006-07 were more likely to graduate high school in 2009-10 than similar 9th grade students who were in MPS in 2006-07 . . . but the effects were not statistically significant.[6]

The strongest finding about graduation was that children who stayed in MPS for all four years, or children who stayed in the MPCP all four years, “were far more likely to graduate and enroll in college” than other students.[7]

Students who moved from one school to another, in other words, were less likely to attend higher education than non-moving peers—a finding which contradicts the very premise of choice that enhanced student mobility will improve educational outcomes.

Evidence from other states

A number of recent voucher studies in other states documented actual loss in academic achievement for participating students.

In Indiana, researchers found that “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement” in mathematics, and also saw no improvement in reading.[8]

A comprehensive study of vouchers in Louisiana found “large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year.”[9]

Martin West, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, called the negative effects in Louisiana “as large as any I’ve seen in the literature — not just compared with other voucher studies, but in the history of American education research.”[10]

In Ohio, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice, released a study of that state’s program which found:  “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.”[11]

In a major review of literature on voucher programs nationally, professor of education at Stanford University, Martin Carnoy, summarized:

“In the few cases in which test scores increased, other factors, namely increased public accountability, not private school competition, seem to be more likely drivers. And high rates of attrition from private schools among voucher users in several studies raises concerns. The second largest and longest-standing U.S. voucher program, in Milwaukee, offers no solid evidence of student gains in either private or public schools.”

“In the only area in which there is evidence of small improvements in voucher schools — in high school graduation and college enrollment rates — there are no data to show whether the gains are the result of schools shedding lower-performing students or engaging in positive practices.”[12]


Research in Wisconsin and other states consistently shows little to no voucher school advantage, and in fact often documents significant ill-effects on students including: school closings, high rates of student attrition for lower-performing students, and decreased assessment scores in math and reading. There is little evidence to substantiate the expansion of private voucher schools on the grounds that they are intended to help student achievement.

In fact, the larger idea that private schools are better than public schools in promoting academic achievement is open to significant debate.  Researchers from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana found public schools actually outperform private ones when comparisons control for student demographics.

Simple ranked comparisons of test scores show that private schools overall (not specific to voucher schools) outscore public schools, but to be meaningful comparisons must account for student differences, including the number of low-income students and those with special needs. Using results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, the researchers concluded:

When controlling for demographic factors, public schools are doing a better job academically than private schools. It seems that private school students have higher scores because they come from more affluent backgrounds, not because the schools they attend are better educational institutions.[13]

More recent studies from the Educational Testing Service, Notre Dame, and Stanford looked at the same data sets and came to similar conclusions. The authors posit that a stolid private school curriculum, varied teacher quality, and lack of professional development in current pedagogical techniques may account for the fact that private schools do not fare as well as public ones in helping students from different backgrounds.  In other words, evolutions in curriculum and practice may well contribute to the advantages that public schools provide students.



[1] Michael R. Ford and Fredrik O. Andersson, “Determinants of Organizational Failure in the Milwaukee School Voucher Program,” Policy Studies Journal, May 2016.

[2] School Choice Demonstration Project, “Student Attainment and the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program: Final Follow-up Analysis,” University of Arkansas, February 2012, p. 17.

[3] Deven Carlson, Joshua M. Cowen and David J. Fleming, “Life After Vouchers: What Happens to Students Who Leave Private Schools for the Traditional Public Sector?” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (June 2013), p.193

[4] Carlson, Cowen and Fleming, “Life After Vouchers: What Happens to Students Who Leave Private Schools for the Traditional Public Sector?” p. 189.

[5] Casey Cobb, “Review of SCDP Milwaukee Evaluation Report #30,” National Education Policy Center, April 2012.

[6] School Choice Demonstration Project. “Student Attainment and the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program,” March 2011, pp. 6, i.

[7] School Choice Demonstration Project. “Student Attainment and the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program,” March 2011, p. i.

[8] Kevin Carey, “Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers,” New York Times, 2/23/2017.

[9] Education Research Alliance. “How has the Louisiana Scholarship Program Affected Students?” February 22, 2016; in Carey, Kevin. “Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers,” New York Times, 2/23/2017.

[10] Carey, Kevin. “Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers,” New York Times, 2/23/2017.

[11] Thomas B Fordham Institute. “Evaluation of Ohio’s EdChoice Program,” July 2016; in Carey, Kevin. “Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers,” New York Times, 2/23/2017.

[12] Martin Carnoy. “School vouchers are not a proven strategy for improving student achievement,” Economic Policy Institute, February 28, 2017.

[13] Julia Ryan, “Are Private Schools worth it?” The Atlantic, October 18, 2013; Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski. The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Ones, University of Chicago Press, 2013.