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New York City
June 2001

Learning from Milwaukee: School Choice

by Mayor Rudy Giuliani

Last month I invited members of the City Council and the Board of Education on a trip to Milwaukee to learn its successful Parental Choice Program, the oldest publicly funded school voucher program in the United States.

The trip was something of a role reversal for us. As is more often the case, representatives from around the world come to New York City to study us. But as public officials, it is our responsibility to help the public understand school reforms at work around the country. So, we went to Milwaukee to learn about school choice from parents, teachers and students, and to apply what we learned to our own city.

Everyone wants the best for their children, and it should come as no surprise that poor parents want the same opportunities that wealthier families sometimes take for granted: the ability to send their children to the school of their choice, be it public, private or parochial.

New York City has some of the best public schools in the world, but unfortunately, many others are failing to do the job. New York City has the largest public school system in the nation, serving 1.1 million students, and education is the Cityís largest single budgetary expenditure. But too much of the money allocated for public education does not reach the students and teachers in the classroom.

The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the nationís first model of school choice, is available to low- and moderate-income families. The approximately15,000 students who eligible to participate receive vouchers for the cost of the private/parochial school tuition, whichever is less.

Under the program, those students electing to enroll at a parochial school (about 68 percent) are not required to participate in any religious activity. Over a decade, the program has grown from 341 students in seven parochial schools to 9,638 students in 103 private and parochial schools. Eighty-four percent of these students go on to pursue higher education.

Milwaukee has show that school choice can improve the quality of education for students who need it the most, and inject competition into the public school bureaucracy, spurring it to reform itself.

A recent study from Harvard University shows that the quality of education has improved for both students with vouchers and for those who attend Milwaukee public schools. But researchers arenít the most important voice in this debate. Parents are.

In our own city in 1997, the privately funded Childrenís Scholarship Fund offered 2,500 school choice scholarships to children in New York City. They received an astounding 168,000 applications from local parents. That is not the action of parents who are satisfied with the status quo. That is a cry for help and a call for change.

I believe we can learn from the success of the Milwaukee Program and begin to develop a modest pilot school choice program of our own. School choice will not solve all of the problems facing our school system, but there are strong signs that it is helping to reinvigorate public education in America.

 

Education Update, Inc., P.O. Box 20005, New York, NY 10001. Tel: (212) 481-5519. Fax: (212) 481-3919. Email: ednews1@aol.com.
All material is copyrighted and may not be printed without express consent of the publisher. © 2001.




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