Private Education: Good for Students, Families, America

Private education is good for everyone.  Even more important is families having the ability to CHOOSE private education for their children.

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School Choice Grows Amid Controvery

The details of success show why school choice needs to expand in Wisconsin.

As Messmer President and CEO the Rev. Bob Smith often puts it, education isn’t a function of test scores and homework — it’s about making better human beings.
Still Messmer boasts some pretty impressive academic achievements by Milwaukee and national education standard, arguably making the nation’s oldest voucher program a shining example of school choice.
The voucher system, allocating public money to send students — generally poor, minority students  —  to private, often faith-based, schools, opened in Milwaukee in 1990 when the state, led by then Gov. Tommy Thompson, cleared the way for the Catholic school to accept voucher students.
Robb said the early years were a struggle, a time of anxiety, when faculty, parents and students wondered whether the whims of politics would change its voucher status.
The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decided the constitutionality of the question early last decade, just as school choice programs continued to expand.
No doubt some have been controversial, and some have failed during the past two decades, but there is no questioning the growth of school choice initiatives in Wisconsin and nationwide.
Parent interest in school choice has soared since the voucher program was implemented in Milwaukee.
In Milwaukee, 47 percent of students in the district attend a choice program outside traditional public programs, said Terry Brown, vice president of School Choice Wisconsin, which advocates for choice in education.
Some 6,400 students last year attended independent charter schools, funded by state education dollars but not affiliated with the public school system.
Another 23,198 attended Milwaukee Parental Choice Program schools, like Messmer.
The Catholic school itself has seen its voucher enrollment, which comprises about 90 percent of its student count, climb from dozens of students in 1990 to just under 1,700 students on three campuses, with waiting lists each of the past seven years, Robb said.
Despite this success, there are the usual suspects who are critical of the program.
“If people want to operate private schools they should operate private schools. People are not paying property taxes to go to the private sector,” said John Matthews, executive director of Madison Teacher’s Inc., the teachers union in the Madison Metropolitan School District.
For Matthews and other critics of school choice programs, the broader problem with independent charters is that they are not organized by the same organizational structures as public school systems, and that leads to a question of accountability.
There also have been concerns that privately run schools on the public dime have been allowed to “cherry pick” their students, selecting the best achievers, leaving behind special needs populations.
The American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, along with groups like Disability Rights Wisconsin, last year filed a discrimination lawsuit against Messmer and other voucher schools, as well as DPI and the state, arguing the system “discriminated against students with disabilities”.
Ultimately it’s baseless criticism based on misconceptions.
Messmer’s enrollment includes about 150 students classified under special needs criteria, Robb said.
And, charter schools are bound to take in black and Hispanic students, among the poorest of the poor in Milwaukee. Messmer’s free-and-reduced lunch population has approached 90 percent.
In the end school choice continues to see success because it ends the “monopoly” known as public education.
The success of school choice programs, Brown said, boils down to consumer confidence.
“I think parents vote with their feet, not only when it comes to the academics of the school but the safety of the school and the character of the school,” he said.
Groups like School Choice Wisconsin say competition in America’s bruised education system is not only good for students and families, it’s good for public education. The more choice — the more success outside the traditional public school system — the greater the education success at large, they argue.
Brown and other choice proponents assert education unions have stymied success in a public school system that is stuck in 19th century state of mind. He said too many in public education want to “protect a monopoly.”
But why not fix the existing public education system, at the very least devoting the public money from choice programs into public schools? That’s a question choice critics have long asked.
“As a state we need to remind ourselves that while parents obviously support the roll of governmental funding in education, that doesn’t equal parental support of the government to run everything in schools,” Brown said.
Understanding the success of school choice has seen in Milwaukee and recognizing the misconceptions pushed by critics are the key to getting strong public support for expanding the program to cities like Green Bay.
Discover the benefits of private education during School Choice Week which runs through January 28.
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Facts on School Choice Green Bay

On May 17 the intention to expand School Choice to Green Bay was announced.  Not surprisingly when opponents of the program voiced their opposition.  Unfortunately this opposition is “straw man” in nature as pointed out in this response by School Choice Wisconsin.

First when looking at the Milwaukee School Choice Program:

• Graduation rates, a far better predictor of future success than test scores, have improved for students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and for students in Milwaukee Public Schools. MPCP students who stay in private schools graduate at the rate of 94 percent, compared to 75 percent for MPS students.
• State and local taxpayers pay less for a student in the MPCP than for a student in MPS. That would be true for school choice programs in Green Bay and Racine as well. Taxpayers pay less because support for an MPCP student is $6,442 while state and property taxpayer support for an MPS student is about $10,000.
• People who live in Milwaukee say the program is successful by a 2:1 margin.  They want more families to be able to participate, according to a recent poll.

Second DPI Superintendent Tony Evers attempted to use selective data from a longitudal study to falsely claim that School Choice in Milwaukee is failing.  Here’s what the study found according to the year four summary:

Although we have examined virtually every possible way that school choice could systematically affect people, schools, and neighborhoods in Milwaukee, we have found no evidence of any harmful effects of choice. Our major findings to date are:
• The MPCP remains popular among Milwaukee families, as evidenced by consistent and at times dramatic growth in MPCP enrollments over the past 12 years.
• The Choice program saves the government money — nearly $52 million in fiscal year 2011 — although not all types of Wisconsin taxpayers benefit from the
• Both the MPCP and the MPS have succeeded in denying public funds to, or closing, a substantial number of low-performing schools over the past four years.
• Attending a private high school through the MPCP increases the likelihood of a student graduating from high school and enrolling in college.
• Students in the MPCP appear to be performing at lower levels than MPS students in the younger grades but somewhat higher levels than MPS students in the older grades. When similar MPCP and MPS students are tracked carefully over time,
however, their rates of achievement growth are statistically similar after three years.
• MPS students themselves are performing at somewhat higher levels as a result of
competitive pressure from the school voucher program.

Another falsehood put forth by opponents of School Choice is in the area of serving special needs students.  As School Choice Wisconsin points out:

The SCDP reports that 8.7 percent of MPCP families said their child had a learning disability compared to 18.2 percent in MPS. The study said their findings “indicated that MPCP school personnel are less likely to identify slow learners specifically as ‘learning
disabled’ than are MPS school personnel. It is possible that some or even all of this large
difference in the reported rates of learning disabled students across the two groups is due to this difference in labeling practices and not necessarily because MPCP schools are serving fewer learning disabled students. There is very little difference in opinions between public and choice school parents regarding how well the school meets their
children’s needs regarding learning disabilities…”

Special needs students are identified differently in private and public schools. Private school students are given Service Plans while public school students receive Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). It is inaccurate to compare the percentage of special needs students in private and public schools by comparing the percentage of students with IEPs.

The biggest falsehood put forth by opponents of school choice and one that has been echoed by Green Bay Superintendent Greg Maas is that the program is an attack on public schools.  In reality the program provides parents with an option when it comes to their child’s education.

And it’s an option that costs taxpayers less in the long run.  Which is why it should be an option for parents in the Green Bay School District.

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