Column ·

State Senate Republicans Make a Bad Idea Even Worse


Proving that it can always get worse, Wisconsin Senate Republicans have entered the debate on school accountability with a proposal, Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), even weaker than what was proposed by their counterparts in the State Assembly.

Private schools in the voucher program will receive over $212 million from state taxpayers this school year. Yet they remain exempt from many of the performance and safety standards we put on public schools — even after studies showing lackluster performance and news reports of questionable uses of public funds.

Instead of Senate Republicans asking more of voucher schools to protect the interests of children and taxpayers they have chosen to provide more protections to keep public money flowing to failing private schools.

Assembly Republicans proposed stacking the deck to benefit the voucher program by creating an oversight board with a pro-privatization majority. Senate Republicans go even further.

Not only is a new board created to oversee voucher schools. Not only is it packed with voucher supporters. But the proposed Senate board also removes oversight from the Department of Public Instruction – headed by the nonpartisan, statewide elected Superintendent of Public Instruction – instead placing it in the Department of Administration, headed by the hand picked political appointee of the Governor.

Instead of cracking down on subpar schools, SB 1 locks in a system in which students that are in private voucher schools declared to be “chronically failing” can continue to use taxpayer funded vouchers to attend these schools.

As with Assembly Republicans it is just as important to judge the Senate bill not just by what is in it, but also what is not. It seems like common sense to require the people entrusted with educating the children at private voucher schools receiving tax dollars to be qualified, licensed professionals. After all, that’s what the law currently requires of our public schools. But that’s not currently the case for voucher schools. And that’s not a provision included in either Senate or Assembly Republican proposals.

Both Senate and Assembly bills are a tour de force of the political clout wielded by the school privatization cartel in Wisconsin.

Research from One Wisconsin Now revealed the $31 million plus propaganda campaign to attack public schools and promote private school vouchers orchestrated by Gov. Walker’s campaign co-chair Michael Grebe and his Milwaukee based Bradley Foundation.

In 2013 the author of Senate Bill 1 and chair of the Senate committee to which the bill was referred threatened to withhold his vote on the state budget unless there was a statewide expansion of the private school voucher program.

Other key Senators are beneficiaries of the largesse of the privatization industry’s campaign cash machine. The American Federation for Children, a front group for the voucher movement overseen by disgraced former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, has publicly bragged of pouring massive amounts of campaign cash to elect sympathetic and sycophantic State Senators. And out-of-state millionaire and billionaires, including heirs to the Walmart and Amway fortunes, have consistently made large campaign contributions directly to voucher friendly Republican elected officials.

It is important that we set expectations for the quality of education our kids receive in the schools that we pay for. It is reasonable to expect consequences if expectations are not met. Unfortunately the efforts of both Assembly and Senate Republicans fall woefully short of protecting our children and tax dollars, instead putting ideology and political payback before helping our schools be the best that they can be.

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Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now and One Wisconsin Institute Executive Director since 2007, has served as a senior communications director and research strategist for numerous statewide campaigns and elected officials.

Scot Ross
Scot Ross
Executive Director

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