It would be reassuring if these shortcomings were an aberration or mistake. Unfortunately, they are part and parcel of the program's structure.
Ever since the program began in 1990, its conservative backers have argued that free-market forces will provide sufficient checks and balances and that the voucher schools should not have to follow the rules governing "government monopoly schools" (more commonly known as "public schools"). As a result, Milwaukee's voucher schools are exempt from any number of guidelines, such as hiring certified teachers, testing students, or publicly releasing data on student achievement.
Milwaukee's voucher program began, nominally as an experiment. It initially served 337 students in seven schools. The program expanded rapidly when religious schools were allowed to join in 1998. At the end of the 2004-05 school year, almost 15,000 students in 115 schools were taking part.
Since the program's start, voucher schools have received a total of almost half a billion dollars in taxpayers' money. Yet, as one of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters has noted, "The lack of research and data is stunning."
Through the years, voucher horror stories have occasionally cropped up—usually when a school or school administrator was caught in a flagrant illegality, parents picketed, or staff walked out because they hadn't been paid.