School Choice: A Success Story

Back in November I had the opportunity to go to a conference in Milwaukee about school choice as an education policy. A lot of it was about messaging but there was enough on the wonk side to keep me interested. There were also a couple of field trips.

Now when you are a kid in school the field trip is the best of all days that are not holidays, because you get to leave the classroom.  For us at the conference it was the reverse. Instead of leaving class, we got to leave the hotel and pack onto a couple of school buses, something I hadn’t done since high school, and go visit a couple of schools.

One of those schools was Hope Christian High School. It is a religious based private school that only serves the economically disadvantaged. Wisconsin has a voucher program and 100% of the students at Hope use those vouchers. A significant majority of these students are also on a free or reduced lunch program.

Why write about them? Well this year marked the third year in a row that their entire senior class was accepted to college. Three years in a row and 100% college acceptance, from a population that all too many people simply forget. I think that’s noteworthy.

One of the students that I got a chance to talk to had to take three public buses to get to school. But she is going to college the next year because of all of her effort. At 17 she already knew how much better she was being prepared for her future than the other kids in her neighborhood that went to a normal public school.

One of the things that Hope Christian has done is provide an avenue for economically disadvantaged kids to succeed. This is what school choice does. Just because a student is poor or a minority does not mean that they are unable to succeed at the same level as a wealthy white student.

Do all of these kids eventually go to college? No. Some go into the military, others go to a trade school, others will go straight into the work force. But what this program has done is provided a place  to prepare these kids for success and then those students have a tangible success of being accepted into college.

Hope takes a different approach to education. They are technically a private religious school but they behave very much like a charter school. They are data driven and are constantly evaluating their methods to improve their program. They were very proud to show us the numbers over the last few years and how hope compares to the rest of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and the country. While there’s still a ways to go, how far they’ve come was pretty impressive.

Wisconsin has created a program that has had real success over the last few years. We were told over and over about how much Milwaukee schools failed their student population. The implementation of a voucher and charter program have been the impetus for steady improvement. Maybe we should revisit this approach to see what it could do for Georgia, another state that consistently under performs.


  1. slyram says:

    My version of school choice would equally address the best and worst students. While vouchers would allow the best students to exit for a more conducive educational environment, the worst 10% should be bounced with their voucher to schools operated by recently retired drill sergeants from the Marine Corps—magnet schools….ha, “we aren’t having it” schools.

    • LJo says:

      I checked it out, and unfortunately, GreatSchools’ grading is not fine tuned yet for private schools.

      • John Konop says:

        It was based on SAT scores, gradation and college placement which is not perfect but similar to what we do now….I would grade for job skills as well… certifications…..

  2. saltycracker says:

    Wisconsin’s education failure is at the hands of collective bargaining and vouchers are an end around where “success” comes at great taxpayer cost. Even in states like Georgia where there is no teachers unions, the politicians are not willing to take on public employees, they benefit too, or raise taxes for immediate payroll costs, so they hand out “deferred” cost benefits like candy and balance the books with forecasts of more players and high returns or just don’t accrue the funds due retirees down the road. Wisconsin might be happy today, broke tomorrow. Georgia has underpaid teachers today, overpaid retirees and a broke system down the road.

    WSJ article on Wisconsin’s sweet deal for teachers

    Newspaper article on double dipping teachers and other public workers

    • Ellynn says:

      Here are some other items about the Wisconsin public school system and retired teachers. My facts are first person. My mother is a retire Wisconsin public school teacher. I handel her finances. I file her tax returns. I get copies of the state pension rules, changes and insurance year reports sent to me.

      Prior to the removeal of collective bargaining in 2011, the average age of retirement was 63. it is currently 57. Over 94 % of teachers who were able to retire prior to Jul1, 2011 did so.

      Milwaukee and Milwaukee County do not take part in the Wisconsin Retirement System. Additionally, since Milwaukee is not part of the over all state system, the Wisconsin state courts ruled, they get to keep collective bargining. The numbers listed in the WSJ are for Milwaukee only, and are inline for major metro areas in the Midwest.

      The state did not have a stand alone collective bargaining law in place. It also had a ‘binding arbitration’ clause too, and a no striking law. My mother worked 4 years with out a contract while it was abritrated in the mid 1980s. Some of the ruling went their way, most of it went the BOE way.

      My mother’s pension payout is no where close to the average Milwaukee amounts coveredin 2011 by the WSJ article.

      The Wisconsin Retirement System is rated one of the best and stable retiremant trusts in the country. Why, because they have safe guards set inplace to adjust the yearly payout to each person. The pension is set up so you can never be paid two pensions. The rule of retirement and any hours added before then are the only thing thats counts for retirement. If a person’s spouse is in the system along with them, their personal conributions can be moved over to the spouse, but all other system payments stop. The system has a base state min payment and then they have this complicated formula of additional trust payments based on if you are over 62 (you legal are required to pull Soc Sec. at 62 where you want to or not), what the trust fund made or lost in funds the year before, the number of people currently being paid out (the larger the number the lower the payment), and any local school system agreements in place. My mothers system currently picks up $500 on her WEA trust fund part D insurance coverage. Since 2010 my mothers pesion payment has gone down as much as 6%a year due to the changes in the number of retires pulling from the system and lower returns to the trust funds investments. I got a letter last week saying it will be going up 1.78% from last year.

      As for the retirees who work for the system after retirement, the counties, cities and school systems are saving thousands of dolars by having them on payroll. My great cousin was the ‘former highway worker who clears snow at the airport’ mentioned in your second link. He is a ‘on call/contract’ emplyee. He plows off the county airport and is paid the base hourly rate for a CDL driver). By pulling him in, it pervents the county from paying their workers overtime in a snow storm to clear the airport. He lives next to the airport so he can clear off the medical helicopter pad in less then 30 mins if he’s home. He gets to make some extra money, and the county can not legally pay into his pension or pay to insure him. How is a bad thing.

      • saltycracker says:

        There are many nuances in public employee benefits and passionate positions from all sides. The Pew institute says Wisconsin and Georgia are hunky dory and then someone else points out that $100 B of Georgia’s $115 B of indebtedness is for unfunded retirements including health.

        We seem to go along for decades then somewhere a massive shortfall appears,. Perhaps as everything is just fine, the first litmus test would be to release taxpayers from any guarantees on the future performance of the reserves or the ability of those reserves to meet withdrawals. Just like our 401k’ s, what we got, we got, the future is with the fund managers and ourselves, the company is out if it.

        • Harry says:

          Excellent comment. $10,000 from every adult and child in Georgia will cover the unfunded public pensions. Every Mexican just write a check. Done.

        • John Konop says:

          From what I read the main issue is healthcare expense. If we do not fix it the people will be shifted to government programs one way or anther…..We really need to focus on the healthcare cost….,

          • saltycracker says:

            That’s like saying I’m not going to set aside adequate money for my kids college until universities get costs under control. FIx the problem so future Georgians will not have to take a big hit.

        • Ellynn says:

          Part of my mother’s does work like a 401(k) which is way her monthly allotment changes every fiscal year. The market was very good this year to both her state held funds and her personal holding in the fund, so her payment went up…

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