Wednesday, December 17, 2014

School vouchers- driving up city taxes, driving down results

It’s time for Wisconsinites to receive and pay their property tax bills, and with that comes a lot of spinning and about the trends in the bills and how it affects the “hard-pressed, middle-class Wisconsin taxpayer.” For example, our Guv is plastering the Twittersphere with examples of the one-time drop in property taxes that go toward tech schools as a result of legislation from last winter (I note that Gov Walker doesn’t mention the $400 million-a-year budget hole that this move has caused).

Another person that’s taking note of his property tax bill is Milwaukeean Dom Noth, who’s back with another excellent, in-depth article describing how a different Scott Walker/WisGOP educational funding policy - greatly expanding funding for voucher schools at the expense of public schools – is a big reason behind higher property taxes for 2014 in the state’s largest city. Noth describes how politicians at the Capitol hide the true tax-jacking that goes on due to voucher schools, as those costs are folded into the costs listed under Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).
Looking at the language and largest graphs within the bill, the home owner thinks the levy cost for MPS has grown 1%. It actually dropped 0.6% in one year. What actually has grown by 8.5% is the levy for a hidden school district, the second largest school district in the state, the voucher program. And since Madison makes sure those costs can be fobbed off on MPS, which never sees a dime, it is MPS that looks poorly run and overly expensive, not the voucher school program, known as the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP).

MPCP is actually the sixth unit of local government on a tax bill that only reports five units. About 20% of what is blamed on the MPS it never sees, thanks to bureaucratic accounting finesse in Madison.

If this was about truth it would be the city of Milwaukee that would lead the cost figures in the levy parade and MPS would drop to second place. The voucher school district known as Milwaukee Parental Choice Program would be tucked into any pie graph just behind Milwaukee County and ahead of the MMSD and MATC. Nor has the state added a single dime in a year to the High Poverty Offset Aid used to sell the voucher program in Milwaukee though state tax credits and offsets have reduced the MPS portion of the so-called MPS levy…

To put it another way that would spell it out for the bean counters, the city’s tax levy has gone up a modest 1.2% since 2013 (and the city has been a responsible steward of the public money) but the MPS, listed as rising 1% in costs, actually dropped by .06%. It was the MPCP that actually went up 8.5%, so while MPS is spending less this year it looks like it is spending more.
And the voucher backers aren’t done with their attempts to deceive the public on the costs their cronyist giveaway cause for the average citizen. Take a look at this garbage from School Choice Wisconsin President Jim Bender, who felt a need to send out a press release in light of the fact that the vast majority of voucher students were already attending private school before the student got his/her voucher. In the process, Bender inadvertently gives away how getting their hands on taxpayer dollars adds a source of funding and flexibility for these (mostly-religious) private schools.
School Choice Wisconsin interviewed all the WPCP schools and found some interesting enrollment trends not mentioned in the [Department of Public Instruction’s’] press release. First, 99% of the students that were previously attending the private school before receiving a voucher were attending on a scholarship. As only low-income students qualify for the WPCP, this is not surprising.

Second,the private schools were able to offer their freed-­‐up scholarship dollars to public school students who had applied for a voucher, but were not lucky enough to be drawn in the lottery. In the end, 237 students that were attending public schools last year at taxpayer expense are now attending private school on a scholarship. Those students joined the 101 public school students who were selected through the lottery for a voucher.
In other words, they are using the voucher money (which comes from taxpayers throughout the state) to free up scholarship money that allows them to steal students from public schools. At the same time, the vouchers lead to less funding for the public schools, and requires them to rely more on property taxes to pay for the lost state aid. How is that not a “separate-but-equal” system of education where one type of school gets advantages that other types of schools do not? And notice Bender doesn’t talk about raising teacher pay or increasing the quality of the school, because the voucher program is only about grabbing more resources for the school and the church that often operates it. What a total scam!

But wait, there’s more from ol’ Jimmy, as he tries the zombie lie of “voucher schools cost less.”
For taxpayers, this means that, over time, those students that move from public schools to scholarships or vouchers in private schools cost less. These fiscal trends are certainly complicated, but the impact of this program is very straightforward – it connects students and parents with quality schools at a lower cost.
One problem with that argument. WE DON’T KNOW IF IT COSTS LESS TO EDUCATE A KID IN A VOUCHER SCHOOL. Bender himself mentioned above that donations and scholarships and other sources of funding go into these voucher schools beyond just taxpayer dollars, so unless we have all those costs included, we really can’t make the apples-to-apples comparison with public schools on whether they truly are “lower cost.” It could just as easily be true that these voucher schools are more top-heavy with administrative salaries and with higher overall costs per student than public schools, but since the voucher schools won’t open the books on ALL of their sources of funding, we don’t have the ability to make that comparison.

What we can do is to look at the results that have come out of these schools in Milwaukee after 25 years of their voucher program being in effect, and they aren’t too good. For example, we know that voucher schools scored lower than MPS students on standardized tests in the last school year, and that sketchy schools are still being allowed to grab $4.6 million this year in taxpayer funding despite having only 2% of its students rank as “proficient” in reading. If Scott Walker, the WisGOP Legislature and the voucher backers that funded their campaigns (and who ran ads that were about any topic BUT education) truly cared about raising the quality of education in Wisconsin, they’d cut these schools off from state aid, much like how they might try to do with certain public schools within MPS and other urban districts. If these people were truly interesting in reforming education, they would immediately reduce funding for voucher schools with 2% proficiency and/or demand high standards from the schools that are allowed to stay in the voucher program.

But the WisGOPs and the voucher lobbyists aren’t asking for that, are they? Nope, they’re about the MONEY AND POWER, and they don’t care what happens to Milwaukee’s property taxpayers or improving the state’s quality of teaching or its labor pool, or pretty much anything else that will suffer as a result of their greed

1 comment:

  1. Milwaukee Voucher Schools is the bad example we need to continue and support Public Schools.