Choose an audience +

school choice

Wisconsin – Milwaukee Parental Choice Program


Wisconsin – Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program was enacted and launched in 1990 and is considered the nation’s first modern private school choice program. It offers private school vouchers to low-income Milwaukee students. Learn more about this pioneering school voucher program, including funding, eligibility, rules, and legal history, here.

Program Fast Facts

  • Launched the modern private school choice “movement”

  • 27,619 participating students (2015–16)

  • 58 percent of families eligible districtwide

  • 117 participating schools (2015–16)

  • Average voucher value (2014–15): $7,366

  • Maximum value as a percentage of public school per-student spending: 67 percent

Program Details

Wisconsin’s Milwaukee Parental Choice Program Participation

Aid Membership
School Year Ending

Click the + symbols to learn more about this program’s details.

Milwaukee students from low-income families are eligible to receive vouchers to attend any participating private school in the state.

Student Funding

In 2015–16, the maximum voucher amount is $7,214 for grades K–8 and $7,860 for grades 9–12. Each school year, maximum voucher payments increase by a percentage equal to the percentage increase in general school aid to Wisconsin public schools. The voucher may not exceed the private school’s per-student costs, including operating expenses and debt service. Parents of students in grades 9–12 that have an income greater than 220 percent of the federal poverty level ($53,350 for a family of four in 2015–16) may be charged additional tuition above the voucher amount.

Student Eligibility

Students who live in Milwaukee and whose family income does not exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible ($72,750 for a family of four in 2015-16); moreover, a family’s income limit increases by $7,000 if the student’s parents/legal guardians are married. Students who are continuing the program from previous years and those who were on a school’s waiting list in the prior year because the school did not have space available do not need to demonstrate income eligibility. Once a student receives a voucher, that student is able to keep it, regardless of his or her family’s future income.

Rules and Regulations

  • Income Limit: 300 percent x Poverty
  • Prior Year Public School Requirement: None
  • Geographic Limit: District (Milwaukee)
  • Enrollment Cap: None
  • Voucher Cap: $7,214 (K–8) / $7,860 (9–12)
  • Testing Mandates: State
  • School Requirements:
    • Meet state nondiscrimination policies
    • Meet state health and safety codes
    • Allow students to opt out of religious programs
    • Administer state testing to voucher recipients in grades four, eight, and 10; receive accreditation within three years of participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (current participating schools adding grades or creating a new school are exempt)
    • Submit an annual financial audit conducted by a certified public accountant to the state
    • Provide evidence of sound fiscal practices and financial viability to the state
    • School administrators must undergo financial training and have at least a teaching license or a bachelor’s degree from a nationally or regionally accredited institution of higher education
    • Teachers must have a teaching license or a bachelor’s degree from a nationally or regionally accredited institution of higher education and teacher aides must have received a high school diploma or been granted a GED or HSED
    • Must provide 1,050 hours of direct pupil instruction in grades 1–6 and 1,137 hours of direct pupil instruction in grades 7–12
    • Must provide the state with information about the academic program at the participating school and student test score data

Governing Statutes

Legal History

In June 2011, the ACLU filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, alleging that the Milwaukee voucher program violates federal laws prohibiting discrimination against students with disabilities. In 1998, the Wisconsin Supreme Court held that the Milwaukee voucher program does not violate either the state’s Compelled Support Clause or Blaine Amendment. The court also affirmed the conclusions of Davis (1992), an earlier uniformity challenge to the school choice program. Jackson v. Benson, 218 Wis. 2d 835, 578 N.W.2d 602 (1998), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 967 (1998).

Questions on School Choice?

Choose your path.

Receive School Choice Updates In Your Inbox

Friedman Newsletter Signup