By Steve Gunn
MILWAUKEE – Milwaukee K-12 students have far more educational options than most kids around the nation.
They can remain in Milwaukee Public Schools, transfer to any other public school, attend one of many public charter schools, or opt to use the city’s unique private school voucher program.
The statistics indicate they very much appreciate having all of those options. They value and appreciate school choice.
“It was amazing several years ago to say that one out of every three Milwaukee children getting a publicly funded education was going to a school outside the traditional Milwaukee public school system,” wrote Alan J. Borsuk in a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel column. “It signaled how much the definition of public education was being reshaped here.
“But that statement is out of date. It’s not 33 percent any more. It’s very close to 40 percent. That figure goes up about 1 ½ points a year, which it did again this year.”
According to Borsuk’s unofficial tally, 119,255 Milwaukee children are receiving publicly funded educations in the current academic year. About 72,000 of them remain in Milwaukee Public Schools, a figure that has dropped from 78,000 four years ago, according to Borsuk.
Where are the rest of the kids going to school?
Borsuk estimates that nearly 25,000 Milwaukee students are attending private schools through the city’s voucher program, which provides up to $6,442 per student for private school tuition per year. That’ an increase of about 1,800 students from a year ago and almost 5,000 from four years ago, according to Borsuk.
The increase is probably due to relaxed financial requirements for voucher students and a change in the law that allows private schools outside the city to enroll Milwaukee voucher students.
Milwaukee students also continue to flock to the city’s growing number of charter schools.
For some reason Borsuk does not offer an estimate of the total number Milwaukee kids enrolled in charters. But he does point out that nearly 12,000 are enrolled this fall in charters that are not staffed by Milwaukee Public Schools employees. That figure has increased about 60 percent over the past four years, an indication that non-union schools are becoming preferable for the families of the city.
It’s easy to understand why.
Another 6,700 Milwaukee kids are taking advantage of the state’s open enrollment policy to attend public schools outside the city, according to Borsuk.
Borsuk claims charter attendance is “likely to keep going up as strong local charters expand and organizations from places such as California and Pennsylvania set up shop here. For example, Rocket Education, based in San Jose, California, aims to open its first school here next fall, with the goal of eight schools and 4,000 kids within several years, and the high-performing, home-grown Milwaukee College Prep is planning to add a fourth school next year and, likely, a fifth the year after.”
Borsuk expects the Republican majority in the Wisconsin state legislature to press for more school choice in the coming legislative session. He also expects those efforts to spark a fierce fight between the two major political parties, as Democrats continue to help the teacher unions and education establishment defend their traditional turf.
What a shame that would be. If legislators really want to do the right thing for families when it comes to education, all they have to do is look at the distribution of Milwaukee students. They and their parents clearly want school choice, and they know what works best for them. If they didn’t want choice, the voucher program and charter schools would rot on the vine.
That should be the beginning and the end of the school choice debate.