MADISON, Wis. — Boosters of the private school voucher program have larded Republican State Senator’s campaign accounts with big money while the voucher industry front group the American Federation for Children has spent millions in state legislative elections to boost Republican candidates and attack their opponents. With the State Senate taking up a state budget that would drain funding directly from K-12 public schools and send it to unaccountable voucher schools, the education privatization cabal is poised to get their payback.
“The private school voucher industry has poured millions of dollars into buying a friendly legislature that won’t demand accountability from the voucher program and continues to throw massive sums of public tax dollars at a program that has failed to show results,” said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross. “Now they’re poised to get their biggest payoff yet courtesy of the Senate Republicans they’ve paid to put in office.”
The voucher program that pays to send children to private schools snagged over $200 million from state taxpayers in the last school year. Independent research has consistently shown students participating in the voucher program have no higher levels of achievement than their peers in public schools.
Under the terms of the 2015 state budget the voucher program would be allowed to operate statewide and enrollment limits would be lifted. According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau up to $800 million that could have otherwise gone to public schools will be diverted to pick up the tab for students, many of whom were already attending private schools, through the voucher program.
Since 2008 a cabal of donors, many of whom are extreme right wing millionaires and billionaires from out-of-state, have showered Wisconsin politicians and PACs with over $4 million in contributions. Key Senators benefitting from the largesse of the private school voucher industry campaign contributions include:
- Sen. Sheila Harsdorf – $14,550
- Sen. Tom Tiffany – $20,200
- Sen. Luther Olsen – $14,550
- Sen. Rick Gudex – $12,900
- Sen. Terry Moulton – $16,800
In addition to direct contributions from wealthy donors, the education privatization front group the American Federation for Children (AFC), headed by disgraced former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, has spent massively to pack the Senate with compliant legislators.
Most recently the AFC poured over $240,000 into electing GOP Sen. Howard Marklein in 2014. Sen. Rick Gudex, who threatened to vote against the 2013 state budget unless the voucher program was expanded statewide, had $325,000 in AFC spending lavished on him in his 2012 Senate bid, well over half of the $535,000 AFC reported spending in November elections. AFC ponied up big bucks, reportedly nearly $1.6 million, to protect voucher lackeys including Sen. Alberta Darling and Sen. Luther Olsen in state recall races. In total AFC has spent at least $4.5 million on state legislative races since 2010.
Ross concluded, “Make no mistake, the voucher industry that spends big bucks on elections is getting their payoff from the politicians they’ve supported. With their vote Senate Republicans are undermining public schools across the state, choosing to take money away directly away from them and giving it to the private voucher schools their wealthy benefactors support.”