Milwaukee Parental Choice Program
- Enacted 1990
- Launched 1990
Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program is considered the nation’s first modern private school choice program. It offers private school vouchers to lower-income Milwaukee students. Learn more about this pioneering school voucher program, including funding, eligibility, rules and legal history, on this page.
We do not administer this program.
Participating Students (Fall 2020)
of Families with Children Income-eligible Districtwide
Participating Schools (Fall 2020)
Average Voucher Value (Fall 2020)
Value as a Percentage of Public School Per-student Spending
Wisconsin’s Milwaukee Parental Choice Program Participation
In 2020–21, the maximum voucher amounts are $8,300 for grades K–8 and $8,946 for grades 9–12. Each school year, maximum voucher payments increase by a dollar amount equal to the dollar-amount increase in general school aid to Wisconsin public schools. Parents of students in grades 9–12 that have an income greater than 220 percent of the federal poverty level ($57,640 for a family of four in 2020–21) may be charged additional tuition exceeding the voucher amount.
Students who live in Milwaukee and whose family income does not exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($78,600 for a family of four in 2020–21) are eligible. 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.
EdChoice Expert Feedback
Wisconsin’s voucher for low-income students in Milwaukee helps tens of thousands of students access schools that are the right fit for them, but policymakers could do more to expand educational opportunity.
Eligibility for the scholarships is limited to students from families in Milwaukee earning up to 300 percent of the federal poverty level ($77,250 for a family of four in 2019–20). About 75% of Milwaukee students are income-eligible to receive a scholarship. Statewide, 4.3% of students participate in one of Wisconsin’s private educational choice options (including the Racine Parental Choice Program, the Statewide Parental Choice Program the Special Needs Scholarship Program, and the K-12 Private School Tuition Deduction). This is the third highest EdChoice share in the nation.
The average scholarship size is about $7,900, which is about 69% of the average expenditure per student at Wisconsin’s district schools.
In order to expand access to educational choice, Wisconsin policymakers should increase the voucher amounts to be comparable with the per-pupil spending at district schools and expand eligibility to all students. The program could also be converted into an education savings account to ensure that all students have access to the education that’s the right fit for them, whether private school or a customized course of education.
The Milwaukee voucher program has some unnecessary and counterproductive regulations. For example, the program requires voucher students in certain grades to take the state’s standardized test. Instead of mandating a single test, policymakers should allow parents and schools to choose from a variety of nationally norm-referenced tests. Policymakers should also amend the program so that it no longer interferes with schools’ admissions standards.
Rules and Regulations
- Income Limit: 300 percent x Poverty
- Prior Year Public School Requirement: None
- Geographic Limit: District (Milwaukee)
- Enrollment Cap: None
- Voucher Cap: $8,300 (K–8) / $8,946 (9–12)
- Testing Mandates: State
- Meet state nondiscrimination policies
- Meet state health and safety codes
- Allow students to opt out of religious programs
- Accept participating students on a random basis if at seat capacity, with preference given to siblings of students and students who participated in the program at a different private school
- Administer state testing to voucher recipients in third, fourth, eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th grade
- If not already accredited, receive accreditation within three years of participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program
- Submit to the state an annual financial audit conducted by a certified public accountant
- Admit eligible students on a random basis
- Provide evidence of sound fiscal practices and financial viability to the state
- School administrators must undergo financial training and have at least a bachelor’s degree from a USDOE- accredited institution of higher education
- Teachers must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution of higher education, and teacher aides must have received a high school diploma or been granted a GED or HSED
- Administer background checks for all employees
- 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
On June 10, 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 v. Grover, 480 N.W.2d 460 (Wis. 1992), an earlier unsuccessful 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)
On December 23, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division of the Educational Opportunities Section (US DoJ) responded to the ACLU complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in June 2011, alleging that the Milwaukee voucher program violated federal laws prohibiting discrimination against students with disabilities. The US DoJ issued a letter to Wisconsin’s state superintendent of public instruction, informing the superintendent that after a rigorous evaluation, the Department of Justice had determined that no further action was warranted and their investigation was closed. There were no findings of wrongdoing related to the voucher program.
Milwaukee Parental Choice Program State Groups
That Support School Choice
School Choice Wisconsin is an organization that works to empower parents by developing, supporting and promoting the ideas and policies that create vibrant, quality options in K–12 education in Wisconsin.