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