Panel: Five Years In Milwaukee: Final Evidence From a Study of the Nation’s Oldest Voucher Program

Friday, November 9, 2012: 1:00 PM-2:30 PM
Hanover A (Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore Hotel)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Organizers:  Patrick Wolf, University of Arkansas
Moderators:  William Howell, University of Chicago and Martin West, Harvard University
Chairs:  David Figlio, Northwestern University

In 2005, the Wisconsin state legislature re-authorized and expanded the nation’s first publicly funded school voucher program (2005 Wisconsin Act 125). The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) began in 1991, and its early outcomes were examined by researchers such as Paul Peterson, Cecelia Rouse and John Witte, to the attention of scholars and practitioners alike. By 2005, however, no new evidence of the program’s impacts had been available for nearly a decade. As a consequence, a key component of the re-authorization was the requirement of a new, longitudinal evaluation. The legislature named the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas, to direct this new analysis on the state’s behalf. Patrick J. Wolf at the University of Arkansas and John Witte at the University of Wisconsin served as co-principal investigators. Data collection began in September 2006, and the last reports to the state were released in February 2012. The proposed panel presents a survey of papers that consider a variety of policy-relevant questions from this study: programmatic impacts on student-level outcomes, fiscal impacts of the program on state and local taxpayers, the effect of introducing a high-stakes accountability system to voucher schools, and the differential treatment of students with special educational needs in public and private schools. In “The Fiscal Impact of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, 1993-2011,” Robert Costrell finds that the voucher program appears to yield net fiscal savings, but this impact is not distributed evenly between state and local taxpayers, largely because of the specification of the program’s funding formula. In “Public Oversight of Private Provision of a Public Good,” Joshua Cowen, et al., draw on the literatures from public administration and educational accountability to frame the effects of a high-stakes performance reporting systems on voucher students. In “School Vouchers and Student Outcomes,” John Witte, et al. present evidence of public-private differences in student test scores and student attainment levels. Finally, in “School Choice and Special Education,” David Fleming, et al. analyze the ways in which public and private schools identify students with special educational needs, noting that the same students flagged for special services in Milwaukee Public Schools are less likely to carry that designation during their time in the voucher sector. Collectively, these papers present a nuanced picture of the strengths and limitations of a large, publicly funded school choice program. The papers draw on several literatures recognizable to a wide variety of APPAM participants, most notably policy analysis and evaluation, public finance, public management and the economics of education. Two esteemed scholars of education policy, the political scientist William Howell (Chicago) and the economist Susanna Loeb (Stanford) have graciously agreed to serve as discussants. As such, the proposed panel provides the opportunity for scholars from a variety of disciplinary perspectives to consider, in one setting, the desirability of school vouchers as an educational reform “in an age of scarcity,” and what critical questions remain for the future.

School Choice and Special Education
David Fleming, Furman University, Patrick Wolf, University of Arkansas and John Witte, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Public Oversight of Private Provision of a Public Good
Joshua Cowen, University of Kentucky, David Fleming, Furman University and Deven Carlson, University of Oklahoma

School Vouchers and Student Outcomes
John Witte, University of Wisconsin - Madison, Deven Carlson, University of Oklahoma, Joshua Cowen, University of Kentucky, David Fleming, Furman University and Patrick Wolf, University of Arkansas

The Fiscal Impact of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, 1993-2011
Robert Costrell and Anna Jacob, University of Arkansas

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