Sunday, May 13, 2018

Dems would end WIsconsin voucher scam that keeps stealing from local public schools

Here's a good piece of Sunday reading from Molly Beck in the Wisconsin State Journal, which discusses the state's school voucher program, and what Dems might do to it if one of them would be elected governor in November.
Before Walker took office in 2011 and Republicans took control of the Legislature that year, there was just one private school voucher program, in Milwaukee. Today, there are three more: For students in Racine, students statewide, and students with disabilities.

After years of state budgets that cut or held funding for public schools flat, Walker last year proposed and signed an education funding plan that adds a record amount of money, not adjusted for inflation, for public schools through 2019...
And even that figure is misleading, since the funding is a pre-election move based on the amount of attendance a school has, and not through the state's equalization formula, which directs more resources to districts with fewer land values to level the playing field.

Given the $1 billion budget deficit that is looming in the next budget, there are going to be limited amounts of funds to pay for both the regular K-12 public school system in Wisconsin and the voucher program. And most of the Democrats running for governor say that the voucher program is going to be phased out in order to keep the public schools funded.
Seven of the top nine Democrats told the Wisconsin State Journal last week they would propose to end all four private school voucher programs — though not all agree on how to eliminate them.

Another candidate said Walker’s education policies created a need for options outside of the traditional public school system, and did not say he would end the programs (this would be State Rep. Dana Wachs, FYI). A ninth candidate said she would seek to end the statewide voucher program and the program for students with disabilities only (the candidate is State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout).

More than 35,000 students across the state attend a private school using a taxpayer subsidy — including nearly 28,000 in the Milwaukee program.
Even in districts as small as Baraboo, parents are using loopholes in the rules to get vouchers for their children, which takes money out of the local public schools in the process.
The Wisconsin Parental Choice Program requires students applying at certain grade levels to meet one of several enrollment stipulations from the previous year to qualify for a voucher that covers tuition costs a participating private school of their choosing. They must have gone to school in a different state, been home schooled or not enrolled, participated in a different school choice program or been on a waiting list, or attended a public school.

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction spokesman Thomas McCarthy said some families have tried to skirt the requirement by enrolling their children in public school districts for short periods....

Baraboo School District Administrator Lori Mueller said so far this year at least one local family appears to have taken a similar route. She said a student registered with the district, attended class Jan. 12 and dropped out. Mueller said she doesn’t know what school the student is attending or if they will qualify for a voucher next year.

McCarthy said it depends if the student was present for one of the agency’s official enrollment counts. The DPI gets public school enrollment data from two tallies throughout the school year on the third Friday in September and the second Friday in January — which this year fell on Jan. 12.

Baraboo School Board member Doug Mering said the loophole is allowing some families that can afford private school tuition to skirt the system at the expense of local tax payers and public school districts. Mering testified on the issue and other budgeting concerns in March before the state Legislature’s Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding.
Remember, under the current DeVos-backed voucher plan that the GOP has in place today, if a student takes a voucher, it is funded by taking the same amount of funding away from the public school district where the child lives. So in the cases described above, the student never really attended Baraboo schools, but Baraboo property taxpayers will have to make up the difference in the thousands of dollars of state aid that gets funneled to the voucher school that student now attends.

What I didn't see mentioned in either Beck's State Journal article or the one from Baraboo is whether any candidates for office will remove the tax deduction from private school tuition for parents that don't get vouchers. This tax break was sponsored by now-Congressman Glenn Grothman in 2013, gives a deduction of up to $10,000 for high school tuition and $4,000 for elementary schools, and has had most of the benefit go to the richest Wisconsinites.

Given that these individuals already get a tax deduction for property taxes for money that goes to their local public school, why are these people allowed to double-dip at the expense of the rest of us? (Actually we know this answer, because dirty money through DeVos and ALEC helped get GOPs elected in Wisconsin) I'd really like to see some Dems step up and call out this preferential treatment for private schools as well, because I bet a whole lot of Wisconsinites really hate seeing these religious schools get funding assistance and tax breaks that their community schools don't. Especially when people pay the difference in property taxes due to vouchers and reductions in general school aids (which will be no different in the next school year than they were in 2011...BEFORE inflation).

Scott Walker can go around talking about the increases in per-pupil aid that were thrown in for the school year that starts before the November 2018 elections. But the damage from 8 years of aid cuts and throwing hundreds of millions of dollars into religious voucher schools hasn't disappeared, as evidenced by Walker's own home district of Delavan-Darien cutting 39 teachers and closing an elementary school after a referendum failed last month. We've had nearly 30 years to see what vouchers have done as a factor in K-12 education. They don't really do anything to help outcomes for students, especially when you account for whether or not the parents care about their kids' educational outcomes, and the money would be much better spent on helping to alleviate the crippling poverty and economic apartheid that afflicts so many low-income students in this state.

At this point, it's pretty obvious that vouchers are nothing more than a political ploy to funnel taxpayer dollars to the operators of these schools who reward those politicians by kicking back some of those funds as campaign donations. It's a so a cheap play for votes from fundies and other anti-education types that despise the social changes of the 21st Century. This scam must be ended if Wisconsin is to restore its place as a state with high-quality education that makes young parents want to locate/stay in and raise their kids in. Dumping vouchers would be a real way to look forward, and leave the failed ideas of the past (and the politicians that prop them up) in the dustbin where they belong.


  1. On a related note, read Charlie Pierce's excellent article from today titled "All Betsy DeVos Knows Is How to Profit from Schoolchildren."

    And that's not only at the K-12 level, but also in DeVos's Dept of Education looking the other way when for-profit colleges scam students out of tens of thousands of dollars.

  2. I have disliked the school voucher system for decades and would love for it to vanish from Wisconsin, but that’s a pipe dream. If I was the Democratic candidate for governor, I wouldn’t touch this issue with a 10-foot pole. There are too many land mines waiting to blow up.

    For one thing, the Republicans will charge the Democrats with being anti-child and anti-religion. They will run ads with weepy parents saying how much much vouchers have helped their kids get a quality education, and they can’t believe anyone would be heartless enough to take it away.

    Secondly, I sadly believe this is an issue that most Wisconsinites know little...and care little...about.

    Finally, Molly Beck’s article points out that, even if the Democrat gets elected, governors can’t just snap their fingers and make vouchers go away. It needs to go through the legislature, which will probably still be heavily Republican.

    I hear what you’re saying, Democrats, and I agree with you. But please leave this issue alone for now.

    1. A few years ago, I may have agreed that Dems should lay low. But taking the voucher system statewide in 2015 changed things, because the funding mechanism TAKES MONEY AWAY from the school district that the kid lives in, and sends it to the voucher school.

      This means that a lot of suburban school districts lost funding for kids that never attended the public schools, and property taxes had to be raised to make up the difference. Add in the corruption and incompetence associated with Betsy DeVos, and you have a number of areas to attack this destructive voucher program,,and add it to the meme of "Scott Walker/WISGOP are killing public education."

    2. IF vouchers are really, truly starting to affect THE SUBURBS, it might be worth a shot. As much as we like to assume it’s always the small-town folks electing Republicans, they aren’t doing it alone, and they never could. Middle-class, college-educated suburbanites are a big voting block.