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Wisconsin Spotlight | Sept. 1, 2020

MADISON — The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, the oldest modern-day school voucher system in the nation, has had a broader positive influence on student lives beyond the classroom.

new study by Corey A. DeAngelis of the Reason Foundation and Patrick J. Wolf of the University of Arkansas shows exposure to the choice program for students in eighth or ninth grades “predicts lower rates of conviction for criminal activity and lower rates of paternity suits by ages 25 and 28.”

“Specifically, exposure to the MPCP is associated with a reduction of around 53 percent in drug convictions, an 86 percent drop in property damage convictions, and 38 percent declines in paternity suits.”

The University of Arkansas peer-reviewed research is a follow-up study on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, tracking students to measure real-life impacts of the program. Researchers note there is a large body of data on academic outcomes, but a dearth of research on non-test categories.

As the study states, standardized test scores do not fully capture society’s goals for education.

“Schools are also social institutions that aim to improve noncognitive skills such as grit, persistence, conscientiousness and social functioning,” the researchers state.

To that end, they used a data-matching system to track whether Milwaukee choice students as adults have been involved in the criminal justice system.

What the study ultimately aims to answer is: Do private school choice programs affect students’ character skills? The answer, at least in the 30-year-old Milwaukee voucher school system, is clearly yes.

The study notes the influencing factors that drive the positive results. The choice program has included religious schools since 1998. Those institutions “tend to emphasize the importance of shaping student character traits and moral behavior.” Beyond academic achievement, choice schools focus on making responsible citizens, increasing social cohesion and boosting democratic participation, the research asserts.

And private schools tend to be located in lower crime areas, “separating vulnerable students from peers who would pressure them to join criminal enterprises,” according to the study. That’s especially important for vulnerable male students who enroll in choice schools.

The study notes that more research is needed before extrapolating the findings beyond the examination of Milwaukee’s parental choice system, but the data is very encouraging.

The savings to society are significant.

“On average, each case of vandalism inflicts $5,557 (in 2016 U.S. Dollars) in societal costs,” the study notes. Each robbery costs society $47,500.

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