MacIver Institute Educational Choice Census


Even before the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was keyed in for expansion, Wisconsinites were turning to school choice at a growing rate.

The population of students exercising school choice in Wisconsin grew by nearly 1,000 between 2009 and 2010, constituting over 25 percent of the Badger State’s K-12 population. More than 261,000 students chose schools other than their neighborhood public school this past school year.

In Milwaukee, almost four out of every five students exercised some form of choice over where they’ll attend school. All this – and more – can be found in the MacIver Institute’s 2011 Wisconsin Student Census.

The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy’s second annual edition of their Wisconsin Educational Choice Census documents student populations between traditional and emerging forms of school choice such as private schools, homeschooling, charter schools, and virtual schools. Student counts across these categories were compared against regular public school enrollment as well as prevalent forms of choice within the public school system, including Chapter 220 student transfers, state and city run charter schools, and the public school open enrollment program. The result was an account of more than one million K-12 students, which provides a testament to Wisconsinites’ ongoing commitment to finding the right schools for their children.

In all, 25.46% of Wisconsin’s students chose schools other than their traditional neighborhood public institutions. In Milwaukee, the birthplace of modern school choice, nearly 80 percent of students had a say in what school they attended for the 2010-2011 school year.

This was an important figure as the state drives forward towards greater options for children in two of its largest cities. The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) will see its largest expansion since 1996, allowing more families to choose from a wider variety of schools than ever before. Racine will follow in Brew City’s footsteps in the pilot year of a similar voucher program. These changes suggest that the state’s participation numbers will continue to grow in the coming years.

Milwaukee saw a significant rise in students exercising choice thanks to a slowly declining pupil count and an increase in families selecting private schools and Three-Choice Enrollment for their children. While the city’s overall enrollment dropped by nearly 5,000 students, the number of pupils exercising choice options actually rose by over 500 kids.

The 947 new choice students represented a slight statewide increase, which was bolstered by improving choice numbers in Wisconsin’s largest city. Though enrollment in options such as homeschooling, private schools, and charter schools dipped slightly, increases in public school choice options like open and Three-Choice enrollment (in Milwaukee) bolstered the state’s profile. This suggests that more parents are turning to public school choice rather than more expensive options like private enrollment.

This overall trend should continue with the recent expansion of the MPCP. By raising the family income ceiling, eliminating the enrollment cap, and removing geographic restrictions for participating schools, more students than ever will be able to use vouchers to attend the private schools of their choice. Next year’s inclusion of Racine should also boost statewide numbers, though the enrollment there is limited to just 250 kids in the first year.

These 2010-2011 results further the narrative that school choice is a growing force in Wisconsin. Though the past year has brought limited growth, it’s still an impressive jump from where the state stood in 2001. In nine years, over seven percent more students have been able to explore an array of options when it comes to their education – an increase of nearly 70,000 pupils. When whittled down to just Milwaukee, this jump is more dramatic; from 27 percent to 79 percent.

The data shows that school choice programs like the one in Milwaukee aren’t just offering options for the students that participate, but pressuring public schools to create more options like Three-Choice or Open Enrollment. This has created a bevy of opportunities for the state’s children, and many are taking advantage of the choices presented to them.

Full data–> MacIver 2011 Educational Choice Census