from Milwaukee: School
Mayor Rudy Giuliani
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.
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