The Milwaukee Public School District responded to a study of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program that was featured prominently in a front page Journal Sentinel article and editorial.
The Journal's editors characterized the report as "groundbreaking" and the findings preliminary, but "tantalizing." But they cautioned against drawing any hard and fast conclusions.
The article was entitled "Voucher study finds parity." But MPS argued that there is no parity in how the private school voucher program is funded. Nor is there parity between MPS and the private schools in providing special education. The MPS release is reprinted in its entirely below:
Voucher school study exposes funding flaws, imbalance in special education
The first findings have been released in a study of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program by University of Arkansas researchers in the School Choice Demonstration Project (SCDP).
What the researchers said about the financial impact of the voucher program – and what they don’t say about special education – is the significant news.
Researchers state that the arrangement for financing voucher schools adversely affects Milwaukee taxpayers.
The State of Wisconsin reimburses just 55% for a voucher student, but provides 73% for an MPS student. "It’s the Milwaukee taxpayer who makes up the difference. Taxpayers in the rest of the state do not share in the cost," explained MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos. "This report once again demonstrates that in essence, there is an extra private school tax that is placed on the residents of Milwaukee."
As a result, Milwaukee taxpayers are paying $54 million this year and will likely have to pay $59 million in private school taxes for the 2008-09 school year. "Funding inequities caused by this program are creating a strain on Milwaukee taxpayers, and we are sensitive to this," said MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos. "The inequities are also causing tough financial choices for the district."
The reports released this week also appear to underestimate the significant differences between MPS and the voucher schools in the area of special education.
Eighteen percent of students (17,300 students) in Milwaukee Public Schools receive special services through Individual Education Plans (IEPs) while MPS data shows that less than 2.5% of voucher school students have Service Plans for students with identified special needs. Service Plans for special needs, private school students are the equivalent of IEPs for students in public schools.
As the lead educational agency for the City of Milwaukee, MPS is required to maintain records for students with special needs in private schools. Current records show that there are 209 active service plans for private school students and another 241 private school students who are eligible for Service Plans but who have opted not to receive services. While there may be students in private schools who have not been formally identified through the Service Plan process, it is likely reasonable to assume that students with the need for more significant assistance are accounted for in this data.
This significant element of MPS student population (the special needs students) is not recognized fully in the study, according to Superintendent Andrekopoulos, who says that it should be. "We’re happy that thousands of families choose us first for special education services and we do a great job with their children in our schools," said Andrekopoulos. "However, special needs students require additional resources, and we’ve had to shift funds to meet these needs. As the enrollments rise in voucher schools, we’ve seen the number of regular education students decrease in MPS while our numbers of higher-cost students in special education have gone up.
This trend is real and it’s a costly one."
The Superintendent said that any long-term view of the voucher program should chart the numbers of special education children in the city, and it should track how their educational needs are met.
For additional information, contact Roseann St. Aubin, MPS Communications Director, at (414) 475-8237.