Will Assembly GOP Allow Raid on Public Education to Benefit Unaccountable Private School Voucher Program?

Pro-Voucher Special Interests Have Spent Lavishly to Install Legislators Willing to Put Their Agenda Before Best Interests of Public Schools, Wisconsin Families

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MADISON, Wis. — Will the State Assembly give approval to a scheme to raid funds directly from K-12 public schools to fund an unlimited and unaccountable private school voucher program in the state budget? One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross noted that a cabal of wealthy donors has made millions in campaign contributions and the pro-voucher front group the American Federation for Children has spent heavily in State Assembly races to elect legislators willing to give preferential treatment to the unaccountable private school voucher program.

“The private school voucher special interests have spent millions on state legislative races in anticipation of today,” said Ross. “Instead of making up for the record cuts to K-12 public education that have hurt schools across the state, Assembly Republicans are opening up the state checkbook for unaccountable private voucher schools and draining resources directly out of public schools.

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. Current Republican Assembly Representatives benefitting from these wealthy donors include: Rep Murtha – $4,850; Rep. Czaja – $6,125; Rep. Tranel – $14,850; Rep. Brooks – $1,250; Rep. Larson – $6,050; Rep. Bernier – $10,900; Rep. Krug – $4,375; Rep. Petryk – $5,250; and Rep. Nerison $6,750.

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 Assembly with legislators amenable to spending more taxpayer dollars on the program without demanding more accountability. In the 2014 legislative elections AFC reported spending at least $850,000 on 20 targeted seats.

The top 2014 beneficiaries include Rep. Dave Heaton ($148,858), Rep. Todd Novak ($122,995), Rep. Scott Krug ($76,079), Rep. John Macco ($38,801) and Rep. Nancy VanderMeer ($25,050).

The 2012 elections also featured the heavy hand of AFC seeking to influence elections to advance their legislative agenda. In 2011 and 2012 AFC reported spending over $2.3 million in Wisconsin, including $25,000 on behalf of Rep. Kathy Bernier.

Ross concluded, “The pro-voucher special interests have spent big money to buy themselves a legislature willing to do their bidding. It’s Wisconsin’s families and children in public schools paying the price when Assembly Republicans vote to serve their political benefactors instead of the best interests of the state.”

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One Wisconsin Now specializes in effective earned media and online organizing to advance progressive leadership and values.