Wisconsin has a proud history of strong public schools. “School choice” in Wisconsin has been a widely discussed issue as of late, which puts the future of Wisconsin’s public school system in jeopardy. Senate and Assembly Republican leaders have decided to expand the school voucher system statewide, and boost funding for Wisconsin school voucher programs, taking more of the taxpayers’ money out of the financially struggling public school system and into private and religious schools. $5.3 million to be exact.
The expansion in the state budget bill would allow 500 students to be part of the voucher program in the first year and then double to 1000 students in its second year. Under this bill, the teachers at these voucher schools would not need to be certified educators. It’s important to note that families qualify for vouchers up to 185% above the poverty level and still receive government funds to send their child to a private school. This particular qualifier essentially tailors the program to wealthier families, who possess much more power in society and would be more likely to receive a voucher.
Voucher programs aim to allow choice and freedom within the education system for some, but does just the opposite for others. In 1995, Washington D.C. decided to implement a school choice program where students could switch from a “failing” public school to a charter or private school via vouchers. The Republicans wanted to introduce competition into the school system, where better schools survived and struggling schools disappeared.
The result was the segregation of Washington D.C.’s education system based on socioeconomic status. The schools that closed were the public schools, even when they performed better than the charter and private schools. The schools with the poorest families with the least amount of power were the ones that were shut down. With the brevity that the Republicans are pushing the school voucher program, public education in Wisconsin will be dismantled in no time.
Just less than a year ago, the Legislative Audit Bureau released its analysis of a five-year study conducted by the University of Arkansas investigating Milwaukee’s school voucher program, funded by the right wing Bradley Foundation. The Audit Bureau found that the research methodology used in the study was flawed, so the researchers were unable to gain conclusive facts on Milwaukee voucher schools. As stated by Senator Chris Larson, “Milwaukee’s voucher schools have never been held to the same accountability” as Wisconsin public schools.
Under the current proposed budget provision, reporting requirements for voucher schools would be eliminated. Public taxpayer money would be going towards these schools, but they will not be required to give any indication to the public on how they are performing. It is unfair to Wisconsin taxpayers to not have proper data on the institutions to which our state invests its money.
School choice ignores the well-being of the community as a whole. The voucher program is likely to result in a segregated education system with wealthier families in the top private schools and poorer families in the failing schools. The schools will likely be segregated racially and culturally as well. This does not produce a true choice for Wisconsin families. A well-rounded education is not a business; it is a right. Let’s keep government funding where it belongs: in Wisconsin’s public school system.