Ground Zero: Do Voucher Schools Work? - WBAY

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Ground Zero: Do Voucher Schools Work?


Supporters say it's just the start.

Opponents say it will never work.

Governor Walker's budget proposal includes the provision to expand school vouchers to nine school districts, including Green Bay, Fond du Lac, and Sheboygan in Northeast Wisconsin.

In Milwaukee, vouchers have been in place since the 1990-91 school year.

Among the 112 private voucher schools participating this school year, according to data from the Department of Public Instruction, 24,027 Milwaukee students are going to private schools using taxpayer dollars.

"This is a hall we use for lunch an for gym," St. Anthony School President Zeus Rodriguez points to during a tour of the near-south side Milwaukee campuses.

At St. Anthony, 99% of its students receive taxpayer-funded vouchers.

The private Catholic school, whose enrollment was around 350 in the early 2000s, has exploded to nearly 1,700 students this year.

Three years ago, St. Anthony opened a high school.

"A lot of critics would say Catholic schools are closing and this just provides public funds to save Catholic schools which weren't good enough to stay open without public funds," Rodriguez said. "Well, that's just not true."

In 2005, state lawmakers ordered a four-year study on Milwaukee's voucher program.

It tracked similar groups of students -- half receiving vouchers, the other half enrolled in Milwaukee Public Schools.

The University of Arkansas's School Choice Demonstration Project headed the privately-funded research.

Target 2 found some of the money for the study came from pro-voucher foundations, like the Walton Family Foundation.

Supporters quickly defend its findings.

"The study itself was completely peer-reviewed, and no fault was found in any of the methodology he had," said Jim Bender, president of the Milwaukee-based non-profit School Choice Wisconsin, which is working to expand the program statewide.

Highlights of the School Choice Demonstration Project research:

  • A higher likelihood of graduation and college enrollment from voucher students by 4-7%
  • Mixed results in testing
  • Achievement growth of voucher students compared to public is higher in reading   but similar in math
  • Many voucher students come to the schools behind 1-2 years academically
  • Conclusion: The study found no evidence of any harmful effects of vouchers

"Do we compete with public schools? Technically, yes," Rodriguez said. "Do we feel like it's necessary to compete with public schools? No."

The program district-wide isn't without problems, though.

In fact, a separate study by the Center on Education Policy found flaws in that research, concluding "additional research has demonstrated that vouchers do not have a strong effect on students' academic achievement."

"There's a lack of accountability," Green Bay Public School Superintendent Michelle Langenfeld said. "There's students who aren't being successful. There are multitudes of schools shutting down all over the country with no accountability."

Bender says problems haunting the early days have been fixed, telling a crowd at a recent event about 50 voucher schools have been removed from the program in the past decade because of "financial management reasons."

The Department of Public Instruction provided Target 2 with a list of 46 schools terminated since 2003 for reason ranging from student safety issues failed accreditations.

"I will be the first person to say we have a wide variety of schools in Milwaukee," Bender said. "Some are extremely high performing, some of them are not very high performing, and I think some of the things we see coming up here are going to be reforming the system dealing with the disparity in the system."

St. Anthony, the largest voucher school in Milwaukee, by their own accounts is flourishing.

"I just feel our mentality of success is different than a public school," Teresa Amman, instructional dean of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classes, said.

It's a voucher test that whether proves effect or not continues to grow each year.

Milwaukee Public Schools didn't want to comment for this story. Instead, we received a statement that says the program "siphons funding from public schools into private schools and compels the local school district to fill in the financial hole by increasing the tax levy to local property taxpayers in order to avoid dramatic cuts in the public school system."

Governor Walker's office tells Target 2 he supports voucher schools adhering to the new report cards that are the basis for public schools to qualify.

That, though, we're told, could be separate legislation.


MPCP Schools Terminated from the Program
due to Compliance Issues

School Year School Name Reason(s)

Alex's Academics of Excellence Audit did not meet program requirements

Mandella School of Science and Math Failure to return MPCP checks


Academic Solutions Learning Center Student Safety Issues

Audit and membership issues

Learning Enterprise* Financial Viability Issues

Louis Tucker Academy Failure to return MPCP checks

Audit and membership issues


Howard's Learning Center Failure to submit required reports

Ida B. Wells Failure to submit certificate of occupancy

LEADER Institute Failure to return MPCP checks

Improperly claimed summer school payments

Financial Viability Issues

Medgar Evers Christian Academy Failure to refund the state 2003-04 FIR payment

Northside High School Failure to meet private school requirements

Sa'Rai and Zigler Upper Excellerated Academy Improperly claimed students for payment

Tahir Ahmadiyya Elementary School Did not meet continuing eligibility requirements

Tucker's Institute of Learning Improperly submitted financial information report


Christ Kids Academy of Excellence Did not meet continuing eligibility requirements

Faith Temple Pentecostal No application for private school accreditation

Nubian Preparatory Learning Academy Failed to meet 2005-06 financial information report (FIR) requirements

DJ Perkins Academy of Excellence Financial concerns with 2005-06 FIR

STS Christian Academy Failure to submit certificate of occupancy

Elijah's Brook God's Nation Children School Health and Safety Issues


Nzingha Institute Failed to refund 05-06 state adjustment payment

Veritas Academy Did not file continuing eligibility report


Jesus Academy of Learning Failed to apply for accreditation

Grace Preparatory School of Excellence Accreditation application denied

Institute for Career Empowerment Inc. Accreditation application denied

Agape Center of Academic Excellence, Inc. Financial viability issues

Blyden Delany Did not file continuing eligibility report

R & B Academy Health and Safety Issues

The Young Women's Institute for Global Studies Ceased Operations

Failed to apply for accreditation

Family Academy Ceased Operations

Collins Christian Academy Imminent Threat to Safety

Failed to apply for accreditation

2009-10 Excel Learning Academy Accreditation application denied

Johnson Christian Academy Accreditation application denied

KidPreneur Accreditation application denied

Resurrection Christian Academy Imminent Threat to Safety

Also terminated for the 2010 -11 school year due to no surety bond

Victory Preparatory Academy Did not file continuing eligibility report

The Way and the Truth Christian Academy Did not file continuing eligibility report

Trinity Christian Academy No Surety Bond

2010-11 Harambee Community School Accreditation application denied 

Garden Homes Community Montessori School, Inc. Accreditation application denied

Excel Academy No Surety Bond

Tuskegee Aviation Academy No Surety Bond

More Than Conquerors Preparatory School Did not file continuing eligibility report

Mustard Seed International School No Surety Bond

Mills Christian Academy Did not meet private school requirements 

2011-12 Milwaukee Institute for Academic Achievement Health and Safety Issues

2012-13 The Margaret Howard Christian Leadership Institute Accreditation Denied

* Withdrew Midyear

As of February 19, 2013
Source: Wisconsin DPI  
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