Education Options in the States: State Programs That Provide Financial Assistance for Attendance at Private Elementary or Secondary Schools
Revised February 2009
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25. Wisconsin—Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

Program type: Scholarships for students from low-income families in Milwaukee

Description: The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) provides state aid payments to students for attendance at participating private schools in Milwaukee. To be eligible, students must be from families who reside in Milwaukee and whose household income does not exceed 175 percent of the federal poverty level. A student participating in the program, and whose family income increases, may remain in the program until the family's income exceeds 220 percent of the federal poverty level. The maximum participation is 22,500 students.

Applications for scholarships are submitted directly to participating schools. If a participating school receives more applications in any year than it has seats available, selection of recipients follows a lottery method. Siblings of current scholarship recipients have priority in receiving new scholarships.

With respect to participating private schools, the law requires schools to be accredited from among a list of accrediting agencies and to administer nationally normed standardized tests to scholarship recipients in grades 4, 8, and 10. Participating schools may not require a recipient to participate in religious activities.

Amount of assistance: For the 2007-08 school year, the scholarship amount is the participating private school's per-pupil expenditure or $6,501, whichever is less. Participating schools must accept the scholarship amount as full payment of tuition.

Number of participants: In the 2007-08 school year, 18,882 students received scholarships to attend 120 participating private schools.

Authorizing statute: Wisconsin Statute §119.23

Legislative history: The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was signed into law in 1990. In 1995, it was expanded to include religious schools. In 2006, the law was changed to increase the number of students who may participate in the program, by increasing the income limit from 175 percent to 220 percent over the federal poverty level and by eliminating the prior-year attendance requirements (allowing students who move into the district to be eligible).

Judicial history: In June 1998, the Wisconsin Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of the program in Jackson v. Benson. In November 1998, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case.

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Last Modified: 04/30/2009