THE STATE OF WISCONSIN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
In his address to the county chairs, Tony Evers (current State Superintendent of Public Schools) had many incisive and wise observations about the state of our state’s public schools. He was particularly clear on why sending our tax dollars to private voucher schools is wrong. He pointed out that in the more than 20 years that the private school voucher program has been in effect, all studies show that they perform no better than public schools. And yet that was the reason given for starting them in the first place, to provide a school that would have better results.
Evers cited a Republican legislator who said that we cannot afford even one system of public schools, and now, with vouchers, we have two. I know from working with the budget in the Ladysmith District that two years ago our state aids would have been $103,000 higher if there were no voucher program. And if there were a private voucher school in the Ladysmith District we would lose another $7000 for each student who attended that private school.
The expansion of the voucher system under Walker is nothing more than a growing subsidization of private schools by the state. Vouchers started in the Milwaukee District, designed to provide an alternative to the poorest families to choose another school. Since then the program expanded both in geography and income qualification. First to Racine and now state-wide under Walker. While there is a cap on the total number of students state-wide, that cap grows and will eventually disappear. The income qualification has likewise been increasing. More than 70% of the students in private voucher schools would be attending them even if there were no voucher system. It can also be noted that with the advent of school choice, where a student can attend a school other than the one where he or she lives, the need for creating a private school alternative is greatly diminished.
Other details from Evers’ talk: private voucher schools are not required to hire certified teachers; private voucher schools are not required to have special education programs and, as a result, generally do not have such programs with the additional costs of each student in such programs falling unfairly on the home public school district; and private voucher schools are not required to perform the same testing of students that public schools are required to do.
Evers made a point of saying that the chronic under-funding of schools by the state causes us all to scramble to keep going. He pointed out that the only good news he could find in the results of the recent November election was that 85% of the referendums to raise taxes were approved. That is, in 85% of the school districts that held referendums to exceed revenue limits, and to increase local taxes to do so, the taxpayers overwhelmingly voted to raise their own taxes. That is a good sign that quality public schools are seen by the citizens as an essential part of their communities. At the same time, Evers noted that one of the factors that makes our state system of school aids unfair, and that gets lost in the debate over funding, is that fully one-fifth of our student population is now suffering from some form of mental illness.