Wisconsin Career Academy, later known as the Wisconsin College Preparatory Academy, was a middle school and high school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Founded in 2000, it originally operated as a charter school under the Milwaukee Public Schools system. In June 2012, the MPS Board of School Directors and WCA administration mutually agreed to terminate the charter school contract. Prior to this termination, in February 2012, the school board of directors had decided to change its name to Wisconsin College Preparatory Academy and announced that it would operate as a private high school under the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program for the 2012-2013 year.
"School choice" is a term for K–12 public education options in the United States, describing a wide array of programs offering students and their families alternatives to publicly provided schools, to which students are generally assigned by the location of their family residence. In the United States, the most common—both by number of programs and by number of participating students—school choice programs are scholarship tax credit programs, which allow individuals or corporations to receive tax credits toward their state taxes in exchange for donations made to non-profit organizations that grant private school scholarships. In other cases, a similar subsidy may be provided by the state through a school voucher program. Other school choice options include open enrollment laws (which allow students to attend public schools outside the district in which the students live), charter schools, magnet schools, virtual schools, homeschooling, education savings accounts (ESAs), and individual tax credits or deductions for educational expenses.
In 1990, Milwaukee became the first community in the United States to adopt a school voucher program. The program enables students to receive public funding to study at parochial and other private schools free of cost. The 2006−07 school year marked the first time that more than $100 million was paid in vouchers, as 26% of Milwaukee students receive public funding to attend schools outside the MPS system. If the voucher program alone were considered a school district, it would mark the sixth-largest district in Wisconsin. Under Wisconsin state law, the Milwaukee school board is one of several entities that can authorize charter schools in the city. Other authorities that can authorize charter schools are the Milwaukee City Council, the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, and the Milwaukee Area Technical College Board. The first charter school in Milwaukee was the Highland Community School, a Montessori elementary school authorized by Milwaukee Public Schools in 1996.
Marta Mossburg, of the Washington Examiner, stated, "The book drips with hypocrisy. He claims Republicans 'reject identity politics' and that a 'lot of bad ideas flow from categorizing people as either victims or oppressors.' But as a Senate candidate and as lieutenant governor of Maryland, he championed minority business subsidies and affirmative action. In the book, Steele slams President Obama for sending his daughters to private school while rejecting school choice for poor Washington D. C. children. As lieutenant governor in Maryland, he headed a commission whose final report never mentioned school vouchers, a key component of any school choice platform. The report rightly endorsed expanding charter schools, but where was his outrage for Baltimore City children denied access to safe, effective learning environment."
The Swedish system of friskolor ("charter schools") was instituted in 1992. These are publicly funded by school vouchers and can be run by not-for-profits as well as for-profit companies. The schools are restricted: for example, they are prohibited from supplementing the public funds with tuition or other fees; pupils must be admitted on a first-come, first-served basis; and entrance exams are not permitted. There are about 900 charter schools throughout the country.
In Sweden, pupils are free to choose a private school and the private school gets paid the same amount as municipal schools. Over 10% of Swedish pupils were enrolled in private schools in 2008. Sweden is internationally known for this innovative school voucher model that provides Swedish pupils with the opportunity to choose the school they prefer. For instance, the biggest school chain, Kunskapsskolan (“The Knowledge School”), offers 30 schools and a web-based environment, has 700 employees and teaches nearly 10,000 pupils. The Swedish system has been recommended to Barack Obama.
Funding for private schools is generally provided through student tuition, endowments, scholarship/school voucher funds, and donations and grants from religious organizations or private individuals. Government funding for religious schools is either subject to restrictions or possibly forbidden, according to the courts' interpretation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment or individual state Blaine Amendments. Non-religious private schools theoretically could qualify for such funding without hassle, preferring the advantages of independent control of their student admissions and course content instead of the public funding they could get with charter status.
The PACES voucher program was established by the Colombian government in late 1991. It aimed to assist low-income households by distributing school vouchers to students living in neighborhoods situated in the two lowest socioeconomic strata. Between 1991 and 1997, the PACES program awarded 125,000 vouchers to lower-income secondary school students. Those vouchers were worth about US $190 in 1998, and data shows that matriculation fees and other monthly expenses incurred by voucher students attending private schools averaged about US $340 in 1998, so a majority of voucher recipients supplemented the voucher with personal funds. The students selected to be in the program were selected by lottery. The vouchers were able to be renewed annually, conditional on students achieving satisfactory academic success as indicated by scheduled grade promotion. The program also included incentives to study harder as well as widening schooling options. Empirical evidence showed that the program had some success. Joshua Angrist shows that after 3 years into the program, lottery winners were 15 percentage points more likely to attend private school and complete .1 more years of schooling, and were about 10 percentage points more likely to have finished the 8th grade. The study also reported that there were larger voucher effects for boys than for girls, especially in mathematics performance. It is important to note that the program did not have a significant impact on dropout rates. Angrist reports that lottery winners scored .2 standard deviations higher on standardized tests. The voucher program also reported some social effects. Lottery winners worked less on average than non-lottery winners. Angrist reports that this was correlated with a decreased likelihood to marry or cohabit as teenagers. In general, the school voucher program's benefits outweighed the costs.
Given the limited budget for schools, it is claimed that a voucher system would weaken public schools while not providing enough money for people to attend private schools. 76% of the money given in Arizona's voucher program went to children already in private schools.
There is debate on whether charter schools ought to be described as private schools or state schools. Advocates of the charter model state that they are public schools because they are open to all students and do not charge tuition, while critics cite charter schools' private operation and loose regulations regarding public accountability and labor issues as arguments against the concept.
A similar concept, recently emerging from within the public school system, is the concept of "charter schools", which are technically independent public schools, but in many respects operate similarly to non-religious private schools.