Religious schools joined the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) in the 1998- 1999 school year. Opponents predicted that this would increase racial segregation. In fact, four years after joining the MPCP, religious schools are more racially integrated than schools in the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) district.
Fuller is Director of the Marquette University Institute for the Transformation of Learning and an American Education Reform Council (AERC) board member. Greiveldinger is a Research Associate with AERC.2
The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University defines a school as “intensely segregated” or racially isolated if enrollment is 90% or more minority or white. See Gary Orfield and John Yun, “Resegregation in American Schools,” The Civil Rights Project, Harvard University, June 1999.
When enrollment at both religious and non-religious MPCP schools is considered, schools in the MPCP remain slightly more integrated than MPS schools.
Integrated schools are desirable. However, in Milwaukee, programs dominated by that goal have had a detrimental impact on many African Americans, the intended beneficiaries.3 Indeed, a major architect of Milwaukee’s integration plan in the 1970s
and 1980s has acknowledged that “white benefit” was a major factor in the development and implementation of the plan.4
The purpose of this report is neither to elevate nor diminish the importance of integration. Rather, its purpose is to respond to claims by voucher opponents that school choice increases segregation.
Through the MPCP, low-income Milwaukee families may use tax-supported education vouchers to send their children to private schools.5 Participation has grown from 341 students in 7 schools in 1990-91 to 10,882 students in 106 private schools in 2001-02. The MPCP is the largest and oldest of the nation’s four public voucher programs targeted at low-income students and students with special education needs.6 The 1995 Wisconsin Legislature expanded the MPCP to include religious schools. The expansion took effect in 1998-99, following a state Supreme Court ruling that religious school participation was constitutional. In an August 12, 1996 lawsuit, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) predicted that the “actual and foreseeable consequences” of including religious schools in the MPCP would be more segregation.7 For example, the NAACP said the “expansion [would provide] state payment for white students to flee from …
integrated [public] schools and attend virtually all-white schools.…” Similar suggestions have emerged as a major theme of groups and individuals opposed to school choice programs.
Former Governor James Hunt of North Carolina said vouchers would lead to “a separate and unequal system”; a news report on Hunt’s remarks said he warned that “vouchers could speed up the decline of racial integration….”
8 · NAACP President Kweisi Mfume explained his opposition to vouchers by saying, “We can’t allow our nation’s schools to be divided once again by skin color.”
9 Another NAACP official, writing in a Florida paper, said “vouchers encourage