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Let’s Talk About the Cost of Closed MPS Schools – $1.5 Billion

Voucher schools have received negative attention this week due to a one-sided article posted in theWisconsin State Journal. In the story, author Molly Beck says that since 2004, Wisconsin has wasted $139 million dollars on choice schools that have been terminated from the program.

The story has been picked up by and become a talking point for gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke who uses it to justify her promise to eliminate the statewide choice program. Her argument is that if schools are failing, funding should be eliminated.

Why does she abandon this argument when discussing MPS? Why are all choice schools judged by the few that are failing, rather than by the highly successful ones? Why are only choice schools condemned?

Beck’s article fails to analyze the taxpayer cost of failed MPS schools over the same ten year time period.

Using data obtained from DPI, School Choice Wisconsin analyzed closed MPS schools from 2005-2006 to 2013-2014. It is important to note that the statistics used for MPS do not include schools that closed in 2004-2005, giving it a statistical advantage over the MPCP analysis.

 Since the 2005-2006 school year, 119 MPS schools have closed, 26 of which were open for five years or less. SCW estimates that over the years analyzed, the schools cumulatively served 113,831 students. This is also a conservative estimate as the enrollment average for each school was based on the last year a school was open which is often the lowest enrollment a school had in its history.

On to cost. While the voucher program cost at most $6,442 per pupil during the ten year timeframe, MPS per pupil spending ranged from $11,610 in 2004-2005 to $13,060 in 2013-2014. On average, the MPS per pupil cost was $13,371 – more than double the maximum voucher cost.

Based on the calculations above, the estimated total cost of failed MPS schools from 2004-2005 to 2013-2014 was over $1.5 BILLON. That certainly casts the $139 million figure in a different light.

MPS schools are costly to operate and arguably a “waste” of taxpayer dollars.  A look at the WKCE results from these schools also shows an alarming pattern: most of these closed schools were failing academically, if standardized tests are used as the measurement. On average at these schools, only 5.3% of students were proficient or advanced in math, and only 4.7% in reading.

Though these poorly performing schools have closed, many others remain open. As of last year, MPS had 51 schools where less than 10% of its students scored were deemed proficient or advanced in math and reading.  The cost of operating these failing schools? Over $350 million last year alone. That’s more than double the cost of the entire MPCP.

As debates concerning funding and accountability – including academic accountability – for schools participating in choice programs throughout the state continue, it is only fair that public schools such as MPS be held to these same standards.

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