Rural public schools face challenges of poverty and low student achievement – yet parents lack access to educational options
April 13, 2017 – Milwaukee, WI – The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty released a new policy brief, “The Case For School Choice in Rural Wisconsin,” to bolster the case for an expansion of the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP). No expansion is currently in the proposed state budget, yet policymakers like Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have suggested they are open to expanding school choice.
Rural and small town students are too often forgotten in an education reform conversation that focuses on Milwaukee. But the policy brief, authored by WILL’s Will Flanders and Lauren Parrottino, explains how poverty and poor public schools aren’t just an urban problem. 144,000 rural and small town students live in poverty. 31 of the 38 lowest performing public school districts in Wisconsin are in rural or small town settings. 1 out of 4 students in rural Wisconsin require remediation math in college. Yet education options are limited. Whereas low-income students in Milwaukee have numerous charter and private school options, those in rural and small town Wisconsin largely do not. 1% of children in rural, small-town Wisconsin have access to a voucher; 75% of children in Milwaukee do.
Students in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP), the out-state private school voucher program, score approximately 6 points (approximately 16.6%) higher on the ACT composite score than traditional public schools. Current enrollment caps and regulations are hindering expansion, dissuading schools from participating, and putting rural and small town parents on waitlists.
For school year 2016-2017, enrollment in the WPCP was limited to 1% of students in a school district. Enrollment caps increase by 1% for a decade before they are lifted completely. The WPCP’s income cap is at 185% of the poverty line, unlike the Milwaukee program that admits families at 300%. This is fundamentally unfair and closes the door on the promise of school choice to rural and small town families.
“Too often, rural students are simply forgotten in the conversation over education reform,” said Will Flanders, PhD, Research Director at WILL. “But the problems of poverty and poor public schools in rural Wisconsin demand our attention. Expanding the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program would go a long way towards improving student outcomes for rural and small town students.”
The Wisconsin Parental Choice Program was created in 2013. Wisconsin is home to the nation’s oldest private school choice program in Milwaukee.