Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Voucher backers believe in the free market- until they don't

Bit busy myself, but wanted to direct you to Bruce Murphy's interesting column in Urban Milwaukee that came out today. Murphy took on the school voucher issue, and noted that while Wisconsin was in the top 10 for teacher salaries 25 years ago, that wasn't the case by the time the Great Recession took hit. Murphy notes that Governor Tommy Thompson used the high teacher salaries of the '80s as a wedge issue to stay in power, and passed limitations such as district-wide revenue caps and the Qualified Economic Offer, limiting annual pay and benefit increases to less than 4% during the booming '90s.

By the time the Great Recession hit, Wisconsin school spending was near the middle of the pack nationwide, and teachers were already being paid below the national average.
Thompson’s approach ended the days of big contract gains for teachers. By 2007-08, Wisconsin had dropped to nearly the median in school spending, with per-pupil expenditures of $10,791, just 4.7 percent higher than the national average of $10,297. As for salaries, Wisconsin’s teachers ranked 23rd nationally, at 93 percent of the average pay nationally.

This was a stunning transformation and Thompson’s most overlooked impact as a governor. He also championed school choice, which began to drive down per pupil spending even further by providing an absurdly low voucher payment. In the most recent school year, a choice school received just $6,400 per student. That’s less than any state but Utah spent per pupil, according to a ranking done by Governing Magazine, and that was based on 2011 data. Odds are Utah passed that spending level in the last three years.
But in typical Republican fashion, by giving them several concessions, it simply whetted their appetite to take more, and in recent years they have increased the gutting of public-schools gutting through cuts in state aid, and increases in the the taxpayer-funded "school choice" program, better known as vouchers.

As Murphy points out, the level of vouchers are well below the per-pupil amounts that are spent at most top public schools in the Milwaukee area, with students that often have additional needs due to their low-income circumstances. So it's not increasing investment in education in any way, and the lagging results of Milwaukee voucher students shows that it's not leading to better outcomes. So what's the game here (other than funneling taxpayer dollars to campaign contributors)? According to Murphy, it's GOP magical thinking that doesn't apply to any other industry.
Meanwhile, Republicans have expanded choice, meaning even more schools will be under-funded. They have also opened the doors to more voucher payments for private school students, 75 percent of whom were already attending private schools. In short, this money will simply go to families who were already paying for an education. Inevitably, it will mean less money in the already shrinking pot of money for public schools statewide.

Republican school choice supporters originally argued it would result in a better education for students than Milwaukee Public Schools. That was the entire rationale for that then-radical change. But as more and more research showed voucher students do about the same or worse, on average, than MPS students, Republicans began switching to arguing that choice schools were cheaper....

I don’t know where every Wisconsin legislator is sending his/her children for school, but I doubt many are choosing schools where the per-pupil spending is below that of nearly every state in the union. Yet the policies and messaging of Republicans is telling us over and over that you can run schools on the cheap.

Meanwhile, it may take years for the impact of the cheap schools movement to be felt. Children attend school for 13 years or more and it can take awhile for the impact of lower spending to be felt on the quality of teachers attracted and the achievement of students. The general wisdom when it comes to other services and products that we buy is that “you get what you pay for.” Why would education be the exception?
Good question Bruce. Of course, maybe WisGOP doesn't care about providing a better education that would increase Wisconsin's talent pool and make it a more desirable place for a business to locate. Maybe they just care about grabbing more political power by weakening teachers'unions (remember what Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said during the 2011 Uprising? I do), and then using the "savings" from budget cuts as an excuse to cut taxes and hamstring the state budget in the future. Then, as the state hits another fiscal crisis, it'll require more privatization and selling off of assets and services to campaign contributors private providers.

Nahhhh, that would be cynical and disgraceful. Can't be that.

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