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Poor choice for Milwaukee voucher students

Indiana House Republicans will do all they can to trivialize the effects of the Democratic walkout, but the GOP apparently has made major concessions on the voucher bill. That's due not only to pressure from the House Democrats, but from the message Republican lawmakers were hearing from teachers back home – a message that coalesced as the walkout wore on.

If Republican lawmakers don't want to listen to Indiana teachers, they could look to test results released Monday in Wisconsin, where voucher students fared worse than or about the same as their public-school counterparts.

"The big news for those plugged into the education world … was the choice vs. public school results in Milwaukee," reports the Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee. "(Milwaukee Public Schools) results overall showed 59 percent of students scoring proficient or better in reading, while 47.8 percent of students scored proficient or better in math.

"In the voucher program, 55.2 percent of students scored proficient or better in reading while 34.4 percent of students scored proficient or better in math.

The percentage of low-income students in public schools proficient or better in reading - 55.3 percent - was about the same as the voucher program, which serves only low-income students, according to the Journal Sentinel. In math, 43.9 percent of MPS low-income students were proficient or better in math, compared to just 34.4 percent of the voucher students.

The Milwaukee voucher program is no fledgling undertaking. It is now more than two decades old. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a voucher supporter, has a solution for test results that reflect poorly on choice schools. He cut funds in the state budget to administer the standardized test to voucher students.

For their part, Indiana lawmakers intent on passing House Bill 1003 might want to rethink the argument that low-income students will do better if only they can escape from their low-performing public schools. The Milwaukee experience says otherwise.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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