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school vouchers, school choice, charter schools, open enrollment, Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, policy innovation, Wisconsin


Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson led a Midwestern policy revolution in the late 1980s and early 1990s centered on providing parents with more school choices. Since those early years, school choice in the forms of private school vouchers, public charter schools, and public school open enrollment have spread across almost all of the country. Longitudinal evaluations of the effects of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), the voucher program initiated by Governor Thompson, indicate that student achievement outcomes were not consistently affected by vouchers but other vital student outcomes, including educational attainment, civic values, criminal proclivities as well as parent and student satisfaction were positively influenced by participation in private school choice. A generally similar pattern of results applies to public charter schools and open enrollment. Parents across the U.S. tend to have more educational options in no small part due to the pioneering initiatives of Tommy Thompson. Although the evidence on school choice, and the desirability of the policies themselves, remains fiercely contested 30 years later, our assessment is that, on balance, disadvantaged families in Wisconsin and elsewhere are no worse off and most likely somewhat better off if they have availed themselves of the school choice opportunities that Governor Thompson helped to make possible.

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EDRE Working Paper

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