MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin legislative Republicans are promising legislation to regulate the private school voucher program that is slated to rake in over $212 million from state taxpayers in the current school year. One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross noted massive campaign spending by voucher special interests and evidence voucher lobbyists were intimately involved in drafting legislation last session raises red flags about who is behind the GOP’s latest proposal.
“Republicans made a farce of accountability by introducing the wish list provided to them by the voucher industry as a bill last legislative session,” commented Ross. “After a campaign in which we witnessed an all out effort by the voucher industry to buy friendly legislators it sure looks like Republicans are poised to pull the same stunt this year.”
The infiltration of the voucher cabal into the development of their own regulations was vividly demonstrated in 2014 when a review of drafting records by One Wisconsin Now found that detailed drafting instructions for a bill were provided to legislators by the lobbyist for the voucher school industry. In 2015 Assembly Speaker Robin “Boss” Vos has tapped former pro-voucher lobby employee Rep. Jessie Rodriguez to help lead their legislative efforts on the issue.
School privatization has long been a goal of wealthy right-wing ideologues from Wisconsin and across the country and Wisconsin’s public schools have been in the crosshairs of their efforts. Earlier 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.
A front group for the voucher movement, the American Federation for Children, overseen by disgraced former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen has poured at least $4.5 million to elect pro-voucher candidates since 2010, including nearly $1 million in 2014 Assembly races alone. In addition out-of-state millionaire and billionaires, including heirs to the Wal-Mart and Amway fortunes, consistently make large campaign contributions directly to voucher friendly Republican elected officials.
Ross noted that true accountability for the voucher program is long overdue and desperately needed to protect both children and taxpayers. For example in 2013 a voucher school that had raked in over $2.3 million in tax money while failing to help a single student test proficient in math abruptly closed in mid-term. In recent weeks it was reported that a voucher school in Milwaukee that has snagged over $35 million from state taxpayers hired teachers that lack degrees, a violation of state law if true. The school also reportedly employs numerous family members of the school’s owner and does not disclose how tax funds are allocated between management salaries and classroom resources.
He concluded, “Republicans have consistently chosen to serve the pro-voucher cabal that seeks to snatch even more money from taxpayers over the best interests of our children and our public schools. After a campaign cycle in which we saw massive spending to protect and expand the stable of pro-voucher legislators there’s no reason to believe this GOP majority will behave any better.”