A 3,000 plus word article by Bill Lueders in the Capital Times today questions the motives behind legislators that support the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP). Specifically targeted is Rep. Howard Marklein, a freshman legislator from Spring Green who had the gall to not only support school choice in Milwaukee but also to introduce legislation to improve the program.
Lueders quotes Rep. Sandy Pope-Roberts as asking: “What’s in this for Howard Marklein?…If it isn’t for the campaign funds, why is he doing this?”
Perhaps he is doing it because it benefits taxpayers in the 51st Assembly district. As Marklein points out to Lueders, an analysis by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows the MPCP is a benefit to his constituents. Without the MPCP, the 15 school districts represented by Rep. Marklein would lose $1.3 million in state aid. The estimate assumes that 90% of students in the MPCP would have no choice but to return to the more expensive Milwaukee Public School (MPS) system if the MPCP was ended. The 90% figure is the number used by the official state evaluators of the MPCP and is based on evidence from choice programs around the country.
Lueders does provide an estimate of savings to one of the 15 districts represented at least in part by Marklein but bases it on 50% of MPCP pupils returning to MPS. It is unclear why a number inconsistent with the literature on voucher programs is used.
Regardless, the author casts doubt even on the 50% estimate. Lueders writes: “The counterargument is that many of the private schools receiving voucher funding once existed without it, at no cost to taxpayers.”
It is true that 60% of schools in the MPCP existed prior to joining the program. It is also true that Milwaukee has changed substantially since the choice program began in 1990 – rising poverty, the decline in manufacturing jobs, and middle class flight has made the argument that private schools in Milwaukee would thrive without the MPCP because they once lived without it nonsensical. There is nothing to suggest that students currently using the MPCP, students who are on average lower-income than those in MPS, would suddenly be able to afford private school tuition.
And perhaps Rep. Marklein supports the MPCP because he thinks it important for the state’s largest city to have more high-school graduates. The official evaluation of the MPCP shows a higher percentage of choice pupils both graduate from high school and go on to college compared to similar MPS pupils. Unfortunately the positive findings on attainment as well as other positive findings on the closure of low-performing schools are not included in Lueders’ article. The only achievement data presented are the one’s showing similar test score gains among matched choice and MPS pupils.
And about that bill that Rep. Marklein, a Certified Public Accountant with experience auditing schools, introduced. It among other things:
- Ended the wasteful practice of forcing the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to cut over 80,000 paper checks annually by allowing the department to pay each school directly on behalf of its pupils;
- Allowed families to submit a single program application for siblings; and
- Mandated the use of auditing standards established by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants in the audits of participating schools.
These measures were non-controversial and DPI did not oppose them at committee.
It is a sign of the sorry state of Wisconsin’s political discourse that a legislator drawing upon professional expertise to create non-controversial legislation to support a program that benefits his taxpayers is viewed as nefarious.
As to Lueders’ overall point, is it really that surprising that school choice advocates support the Wisconsin legislators who, like the majority of Milwaukee residents, support the Milwaukee voucher program?