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School Choice Studies, Proposals Show Trends

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Parents interested in exercising options for school choice must make decisions locally, but they can learn important lessons from trends and studies on a national level, and 2013 is proving to be a busy year already.

Here are some highlights:

After 23 years, choice program results found not better than traditional school

Students who attend schools on a choice program in Milwaukee perform slightly worse than their public school counterparts, according to a study released Feb. 13 by the Public Policy Forum, a nonpartisan government watchdog group. Demographics of students in the public schools mirror those in the choice schools.

"The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), now in its 23rd year, includes 113 private schools. For most of the program's history, little has been known about the performance of the participating students. Today, schools report MPCP student proficiency rates as measured by state standardized exams, which tend to be slightly below proficiency rates of students in MPS [Milwaukee Public Schools,]" the report indicates.

A further analysis of this study is available on Education Week's Charters & Choice blog.

Early performance of a charter school seems to predict its success, or lack thereof

How well a charter school does in its first year of operation is a strong indicator of how it will continue to perform, according to findings released Jan. 31 from Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes.

The "Charter Schools Growth and Replication Study" came to this conclusion, which might be of particular interest to parents: "Poor first-year performance simply cannot be overlooked or excused. For the majority of schools, poor first-year performance will give way to poor second-year performance. Once this has happened, the future is predictable and extremely bleak. For the students enrolled in these schools, this is a tragedy that must not be dismissed."

Two of four charter network operators—KIPP and Uncommon Schools—were named as producing generally positive results.

More in-depth coverage of this research is available in "Charters Odds of Success or Failure Show Early, Study Finds," and a dissenting view from "Center for Ed. Reform Takes Aim at CREDO Study."

States, federal government to debate more choice options

Five states and the federal government have proposals on the table involving school choice, vouchers, and charter school expansion.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker wants to increase taxpayer funding for school vouchers 9 percent, and to expand the voucher program to nine new districts.

Legislators in Georgia are weighing a parent trigger law that would allow parents dissatisfied with their children's school to change it to a charter. Wyoming legislators are considering a tax credit system for school vouchers. Montana senators recently struck down a proposal to bring charters to the state. Two other parts of the choice package are still alive: Legislators will decide whether to create tax credits for private school vouchers and whether to set aside public school funds for students with special needs to attend alternative, private education programs. In New Mexico, two legislators want to prevent private organizations and businesses from operating virtual charter schools in the state.

At the federal level, a bill that would establish tax-credit vouchers for low-income families has been introduced by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican.

Education Week's Charters & Choice reports more information on all this legislative action.

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