Milwaukee Study: School Choice Linked to Fewer Broken Families, Convictions

Former Pennsylvania Secretary of Public Welfare Helen O’Bannon once lamented “the family breaking up” as the root cause of an “untrained, unskilled” workforce, which increases “single, female heads of household.”

To which Thomas Sowell responded, “It’s incredible how you start the story in the middle—as if there’s a predestined amount of poverty and fatherhood desertion.”

Sowell was making a crucial point: societal problems are not always the starting point of policy failures. Often, the policies themselves are the root cause.

In the same way, some educators point to dysfunction in the home as an insurmountable obstacle to academic achievement. But a recent study in Milwaukee suggests that, like Helen O’Bannon, this narrative may also “start the story in the middle.”

According to Corey DeAngelis of the Cato Institute and Patrick J. Wolf of the University of Arkansas, students who participated in Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program (MPCP) were found guilty of 53 percent fewer drug-related charges, 86 percent fewer property damage crimes, and 38 percent fewer paternity disputes.

Who wouldn’t want that for their kids?

Pennsylvania struggles with similar difficulties as Wisconsin—especially in our urban centers. Though thankfully down from a 2012 high—at 47,370—Pennsylvania’s prison inmate population remains unacceptably high. And according to census data from 2017, nearly 900,000 Pennsylvania kids live in single-parent families. Sixty percent of Philadelphia households are single-parent homes.

Whether it’s poverty, single-parent homes, or incarceration, the only way to break these generational cycles is through opportunity. Adults need opportunities to thrive in the workforce, and children need opportunities to thrive in their education.

Kids need educators who will meet them where they are. Schools like Gesu School in North Philadelphia are doing just that. For 450 students in the poorest zip codes, Gesu is empowering them to thrive.

Legislation has been proposed that would extend opportunities like Gesu School to thousands of Pennsylvania kids. Senator Mike Regan’s plan would boost available EITC and OSTC tax credits by 25 percent if 90 percent of credits were used the previous year. Speaker of the House Mike Turzai’s proposal calls for a $100M increase in EITC K-12 scholarships next year—the largest one-year increase since the program’s inception. In addition, his plan would boost available tax credits by 10 percent when 90 percent of tax credits were used the previous year.

Whether in Milwaukee or Philadelphia, kids with choices tailored to them are more likely to enjoy a happy, productive adulthood. All kids deserve this chance. Rather than “start the story in the middle,” let’s change the story.