School Choice Saves Money

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A study from Wisconsin adds up some of the economic evidence.

ENLARGE
PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

Democrats opposed to school choice often claim that charter schools and vouchers siphon taxpayer money from traditional public schools. That’s rarely true because choice schools typically spend less per child. And now a study shows that Milwaukee’s landmark voucher program will save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Readers may recall the story of St. Marcus Lutheran, one of Milwaukee’s top schools, which graduates about 90% of its students, more than 90% of whom come from low-income families. St. Marcus participates in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program and is in high demand. So when an empty public-school building came on the market in 2014 for an appraised value of $880,000, St. Marcus saw it as a chance to add a second campus for as many as 600 more students.

But the City of Milwaukee demanded a $1.3 million surcharge to compensate for what it said was the higher cost of school choice. St. Marcus had to walk away because it couldn’t afford the city’s surcharge for the building.

That’s when the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a nonprofit that advocates for limited government and education reform, decided to look at the relative cost and benefits of choice schools. And, what do you know, it found that students participating in Milwaukee’s voucher program will provide the city, state and students nearly $500 million in economic benefits through 2035 thanks to higher graduation and lower crime rates.

Using data from a crime and graduation study by Corey DeAngelis and Patrick Wolf at the University of Arkansas, the Milwaukee study finds that through 2035 Wisconsin will receive a $473 million benefit from higher graduation rates by choice students. More education translates into higher incomes, more tax revenue and a lower likelihood of reliance on government welfare or other payments. Meanwhile, greater economic opportunity also prevents young adults from turning to crime, which the study estimates will save Wisconsin $1.7 million from fewer misdemeanors and $24 million from fewer felonies over the same 20 years.

Progressives typically assert that social spending yields all sorts of economic benefits, yet they refuse to see the benefits that voucher programs and charter schools provide. Why not look at the evidence?

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