Milwaukee Busing Plan Is Also on the Line

BOSTON is not the only city debating the merits of its voluntary school busing plan.

Milwaukee's Chapter 220 program, which began busing students between the city and its suburbs in 1976, may lose its state funding within two years. Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) has proposed an end to Chapter 220 unless the legislature votes to renew it.

The program currently buses about 6,700 students. Nearly 900 are white suburban students coming into the city schools. The rest are urban minority students attending suburban schools.

Although Wisconsin taxpayers have spent more than $400 million on Chapter 220 in the past 16 years, there has never been a comprehensive analysis of academic achievement for students in the program, says Charles Sykes, a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

Mr. Sykes questions the educational merits of Chapter 220. The main goal of the program, he writes in the current issue of "Wisconsin Interest," is "the shift of tax dollars from state taxpayers to Milwaukee-area school districts."

But those in favor of continuing the program argue that voluntary busing is far better than court-ordered desegregation programs.

Some say voluntary busing also helps minority families who want to live in the city stay there without jeopardizing their children's education.

"What you're doing in a way is allowing middle-class black families to stay in the city and to have a suburban education at the same time," says Gary Orfield, a professor of education at Harvard University. "If they were forced to choose ..., they might move to the suburbans instead. That would be a serious loss to the city."

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