As Bad Schools Close, Milwaukee's Voucher Market Shows It's Working

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports some interesting developments in that city’s nearly two decades old voucher program (H/T Joanne Jacobs).

Four Milwaukee voucher schools — including the fast-growing independent Atlas Preparatory Academy — now have more than 750 students each. More than 21,000 students total are enrolled in 111 voucher schools this year. But what’s really telling:

And 18 schools that were on the voucher roster a year ago were not there. It’s hard to get sentimental looking at the list. Most were small or weak. Some could not meet the tightened requirements of state law, including rules being applied full force now that voucher schools get accredited by independent organizations….

“The market is working,” said Terry Brown, who heads St. Anthony. “It’s not a perfect market,” but over time many bad schools have been weeded out.

School vouchers are not a magic bullet to provide instant academic relief. But the market sure makes it a lot easier to get rid of bad schools and bad teachers, and work to meet the demands of families, than the captive system of K-12 education that tends to dominate around the country.

So here’s what to do: Introduce vouchers (or perhaps better yet, tuition tax credits). Add in some commonsense (but not overly burdensome) accountability measures, educate parents about their options, and watch the opportunities blossom.

As for the results for student success? Stay tuned. It will be exciting to see what continues to take place in Milwaukee, along with the other cities and states where school choice has really started to take root.

Education Policy Center director Pam Benigno and senior fellow Krista Kafer talk to the principal of St. Anthony School, the largest Milwaukee voucher school, during an October 2006 visit