WILL Responds to U.S. Reps. Pocan and Moore Regarding School Choice

Published on: January 28, 2015

In their letter requesting a federal review of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), United States Representatives Mark Pocan and Gwen Moore ignore existing studies on school choice and make inaccurate conclusions about the MPCP.  In the unlikely event that their interest in state education policy is not entirely political, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty has sent them a policy brief that answers their questions about the program.

Last month, U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan, Gwen Moore, and David Loebsack requested a federal review of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.  They raise serious allegations about school choice, saying that “independent studies . . . reveal that the voucher schools do not deliver on the promise of significantly improved academic performance.”  But, that statement is simply wrong.  The Representatives fail to mention the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP), a five year study of the Milwaukee choice program that is recognized as the most comprehensive study of school choice in Wisconsin.  It concluded that, among other things, “achievement growth of MPCP students compared to MPS students is higher in reading but similar in math,” “MPS students themselves are performing at somewhat higher levels as a result of competitive pressure from the school voucher program,” and a voucher “increases the likelihood of a student graduating from high school, enrolling in a four-year college, and persisting in college.”

The SCDP findings were similar to conclusions in other studies on school choice.  To date, at least thirteen studies based on random assignment, the “gold standard” of research methods, have been conducted on the school voucher programs.  All but one of these studies found that vouchers benefit, in multiple ways, some or all of the students who used a voucher (the other study found no impact).  These studies were also missing from their letter to the GAO.

In justifying their request for more federal involvement in Wisconsin education policy, the Representatives mention the U.S. DOJ’s investigation into the MPCP and say that “alarming allegations of potentially discriminatory practices occurring within the program continue to surface.”  But, they fail to say that even though the investigation is well into its fourth year, the government has made no allegations and produced no evidence of actual discrimination.  Furthermore, the U.S. DOJ is operating on a legal theory that has been rejected by the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Supreme Court.  This was also not explained to the GAO.

Moreover, it is extremely rare for the GAO, the “congressional watchdog,” to investigate a state-based program funded by state and local dollars.  Because the vouchers in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program are funded 100% by state and local taxpayers, perhaps Representatives Pocan and Moore can save the GAO’s time and resources by first looking over the studies on school choice that already exist.

The Letter and Policy Brief can be found here.