A Committee of the WI State Senate will meet Wednesday Oct 5 to discuss a proposal which would prohibit further expansion of school vouchers. The move is a response by a bi-partisan group of Senators to stem the advance of the school voucher program. The existing Milwaukee school voucher program was expanded from Milwaukee to Racine as an element of Walker’s Budget Bill which passed in June despite outcry about lack of public debate and several controversial components. Senator Dave Hansen said the state cannot afford an expansion of vouchers, saying that districts are already hurting.
Education policy in Wisconsin is rapidly shifting as a result of Walker’s campaign to reshape our schools by mischaracterizing Wisconsin’s education system as a failure, defunding local schools, and advancing charter schools and voucher programs. Wisconsin has one of the highest high-school graduation rates in the country and ranks second in ACT scores (Minnesota has the highest ranking) even as Walker has claimed that Wisconsin schools are failing our students.
Despite demonstrable evidence that Wisconsin’s education system is excellent Walker has called for drastic changes and has implemented budget measures that will create an educational crisis in the State. Governor Walker’s budget cuts state funding to public schools by $835 million, diverts $41 million from public schools to new voucher and independent charter programs, and cuts requires local school districts to cut their property taxes by $326 million. This all adds up to a total cut to public schools of over $1.2 billion — far and away the biggest cut to public education in state history. A recent study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that among 24 states studied Wisconsin cut the most funds per student this year, a loss of $635 per student.
The voucher and charter programs, the subject of tomorrow’s debate are popular with an array of groups lobbying hard to expand Wisconsin’s school choice programs across the state. According to a recent article in the Capital Times, millions of dollars are being spent to shift Wisconsin educational policy toward tax-funded vouchers.
“The new 800-pound gorilla — actually it’s more of a 1,200-pound gorilla — is the tax-funded-voucher groups,” says state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison. “They’ve become the most powerful lobbying entity in the state.”
Tomorrow’s committee debate could allow more time for public debate about school choice programs before they become more prevalent throughout Wisconsin. Now is the time to weigh in and local school boards are taking this bill seriously. Wauwatosa’s School Board has written to legislators asking them to support SB 174 and prohibit school vouchers. In advance of the board vote, Lois Weber the President of the Board said “Private schools are a parent’s choice and if they choose that then they should pay for it.”