Candidates for top schools post differ on results of voucher study

Despite the findings of a new study that voucher students did no better generally than students enrolled in Milwaukee Public Schools, state superintendent of public instruction candidate Rose Fernandez said Thursday the voucher program shows it provides equal results for less cost.

The same study prompted Tony Evers, her opponent in the race, to call for greater transparency of the program and a release of the test results for individual schools included in the report.

The two candidates made their statements in a forum at Marquette University Law School moderated by TV anchor Mike Gousha in what is expected to be their last joint meeting before the April 7 election.

When asked about the results of the report released Thursday that found little difference between the academic performance and progress of students in the voucher schools and in MPS, Fernandez said cost remains a major difference between the schools.

"If they are getting equal results, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program is doing it for half the price," said Fernandez, a parent advocate and former pediatric trauma nurse running to become the state's top school official.

She also said the study found some voucher schools had much better results than public schools in the city, showing glimmers of hope for impoverished children in the city.

But Evers, the deputy superintendent of public instruction, said that's all the more reason testing results for individual voucher schools should be released and there should be more transparency in the program.

"We've suddenly changed the equation for why this program came into play," he said. "Suddenly the argument becomes, well, it may not be better but it sure as heck is cheaper."

Later, in response to a question about the cost difference, Evers also pointed out that MPS educates more students with special needs than do the private voucher schools. Such students usually cost much more to educate than average students.

Fernandez contended that voucher schools also educate students with disabilities, and that oftentimes students with learning disabilities in the program turn out not to have disabilities but just have not received adequate instruction previously.

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