Are School Vouchers Worth It?
Are taxpayers really
getting their bang for their buck when it comes to funding school vouchers?
The short answer from
the Forward Institute is no.
The new, progressive
public policy research organization released its comprehensive report today on
Wisconsin’s education funding and poverty and it’s well worth a close read.
A portion of the
report examines taxpayer funding for voucher schools and their performance.
Now, this isn’t easy
to do since schools that accept vouchers don’t have to provide the kind of data
that fully public schools provide, even though the state has enhanced some of
the voucher schools’ accountability measures.
That said, the
Forward Institute chose to look at state aid per pupil and the percentage of
students that test proficient or advanced on state tests. (You’ll find all of
this on page 46 of the report.)
acknowledge here that both public schools and voucher schools take in money
from other sources. Both types of schools typically spend more per pupil than
what they receive from state taxpayers.
want the value of the voucher to increase (and Gov. Scott Walker has proposed
doing so) because they say that they want parity with public schools. They want
more taxpayer money because the voucher isn’t keeping up with rising expenses.
That said, they also claim that they are able to educate kids more cheaply than
the Milwaukee Public Schools. So voucher schools want more money at the same
time they claim to be a better value for taxpayers. Got it. Not contradictory
What the Forward
Institute looked at is the amount of per pupil state aid and state taxpayers’ return on
investment in students—how many of them are performing well on
The Forward Institute
found that Milwaukee Public Schools receive $6,442 in state aid per pupil (the same as vouchers, FYI), had
59.7% proficient/advanced in reading and 50.3% proficient/advanced in math.
According to Forward Institute’s calculations, that’s a cost of $10,783 per
pupil to achieve a score of proficient or advanced in reading and $12,812 to do so
Now, the Forward Institute
found that contrary to voucher advocates’ claims that they are able to educate
kids more cheaply, it actually costs taxpayers more money to get a voucher
student to achieve advanced or proficiency levels in reading and math tests.
of Milwaukee voucher students are proficient in math and 56.4% are proficient in reading.
While it cost MPS
$12,812 per pupil to achieve proficiency in math, it cost voucher schools $16,145 per pupil to do
so. Similarly, it cost MPS $10,783 per pupil to achieve proficiency in reading but it
cost vouchers $11,422 per pupil to do so.
The Forward Institute
also compared these figures to school districts across the state that have the
highest percentage of kids who are economically disadvantaged.
They found that these
non-Milwaukee low-income districts can achieve advanced or proficiency rates at
$7,958 per pupil in math and $7,364 in reading.
In addition, the
Forward Institute found that voucher schools are graduating a high percentage
of students who are not performing well on tests in high school.
proficiency in math and reading in the 10th grade equals the
graduation rate. In MPS, for every two graduates there is one testing
proficient in reading and math in the tenth grade.
That isn’t great, but
MPS’s graduation:proficiency ratio is stellar when you compare it to the
voucher schools’ graduation rate.
More than 20 kids
graduate from a voucher school for every 10th grade voucher student
who tests proficient in reading or math.
Put simply, the value
of a voucher school diploma isn’t worth much.
And if Walker’s
voucher funding boost is passed in the state budget, state taxpayers will be
sinking even more money into these questionable diplomas.
I’ll have much more
to say about the Forward Institute report in this blog and in next week’s