Monday, October 13, 2014

Vouchers defraud while public schools struggle to stay open

The Wisconsin State Journal’s Molly Beck was guilty of committing an act of journalism over the weekend, showing that numerous private schools whose students were given vouchers for K-12 education had been shut down over the past decade for underperformance, and at a huge cost to state taxpayers.
Over the past 10 years, Wisconsin taxpayers have paid about $139 million to private schools that were subsequently barred from the state’s voucher system for failing to meet requirements related to finances, accreditation, student safety and auditing, a Wisconsin State Journal review has found.

More than two thirds of the 50 schools terminated from the state’s voucher system since 2004 — all in Milwaukee — had stayed open for five years or less, according to the data provided by the state Department of Public Instruction. Eleven schools, paid a total of $4.1 million, were terminated from the voucher program after just one year.
So did the state get its money back from these fly-by-night schools failing? OF COURSE NOT, and the vouchers’ biggest lobbyist joined the State Senate’s Education Chair in saying it should stay that way.
Recouping money sent to shuttered schools isn’t a feasible option, since the money is gone, [School Choice Wisconsin President Jim] Bender and {State Sen. Luther] Olsen said. Bender said the money was used for educating children and not squandered in most cases.

“The idea that you would go back and get money that was used for education is a misguided perception,” he said.

Bender warned against assuming that, because some schools closed, the entire system has failed. He said when poor-performing schools close, the students who attended those schools can move to a school that is meeting requirements.
If a kid’s school fails and underperforms in giving a good education, the kid can just go somewhere else in another part of town. Shit, that's good enough for Jimmy Bender. I’m sure that’s not disruptive at all socially (the “new kid” never has a problem adjusting to a different school, right?), and I’m sure being 2 years behind his/her peers in the classroom due to the last school’s crappy job won’t be a drag on his/her learning at this one.

Does Jim Bender have a clue about kids’ lives and how to improve their chances for success? Likely not, but he doesn’t care about that too much, because he and his backers are getting paid well in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan. Beck’s article mentions that voucher schools will receive $210 million in state aid this school year, and Governor Scott Walker has mentioned that he would like this number to go much higher in the future, perhaps to the point that there are no limitations on how many students could get vouchers throughout the state.

Of course, unlike the number of students in Walker’s voucher plan, the taxpayer dollars to fund those vouchers aren’t unlimited. And often, voucher funds are accumulated by taking away state aid to public schools. Remember this picture I showed around a few weeks back, as schools were starting up in Wisconsin? Note which parts of the state have a ton of beige and red.

Those beige and red areas are where districts projected to get cuts in state aid for 2014-15. That’s not cuts per student, that’s cuts in overall aid, and a lot of those cuts have led to situations so desperate that WQOW-TV in Eau Claire reports that 83 Wisconsin school districts will have referenda in 3 weeks, mostly asking to raise property taxes for their schools. In many of these cases, the referenda are in small, rural school districts that need to raise taxes just to keep the lights on and to keep operating at their current levels. This is the direct result of Scott Walker and the WisGOP Legislature funneling off state aids from these districts, and sending them over into vouchers, which often go into these newbie schools that have shown no evidence of providing a quality education.

It is especially noteworthy that these districts are having financial difficulties 3 years after Act 10 was put into effect in many of these places. Walker and WisGOP honks may talk up the “savings” from Act 10’s “tools”, and sure, they did lower costs to the general taxpayer in the short-run (by raising the costs to that certain group of taxpayers called school district employees), but those haven’t been nearly enough to make up for the continual cuts to public education, especially in rural Wisconsin. Add in the problems in attracting and retaining teachers in many districts, with the huge amount of retirements in the field over the last 3 years and fewer UW System students entering teacher training programs after seeing the denigration of the profession, and you can see how imperiled the quality of our state’s education system is.

But you didn’t think Scott Walker actually wanted to IMPROVE education in Wisconsin, did you? Silly goose. He just wanted to throw more taxpayer dollars to Jim Bender’s and (convicted criminal) Scott Jensen’s GOP money-funneling operation at the voucher lobby, and hurt Dems’ political chances in the process.

So three years after Act 10, with the prospect of huge increases in property taxes and/or increases in class sizes and reductions in school services in the places that badly need a strong public education to level the playing field, how’s that “divide-and-conquer” strategy on education working out for us? If you’re not a rich person who stands to grab the new $30 million private sector tuition tax break and/or work for WisGOP and WisGOP donators, it’s probably sucked.

Lewis Black summed it up in his own inimitable (and NSFW) way at a stand-up performance last week. People who disinvest in public education are short-sighted greedheads who should not be put in charge of anything past a hot dog stand, and those who rip on public school teachers and call them overpaid are pathetic a-holes.

"It starts with education, you fuckin' look for great teachers, you don't fuck around, and you pay them, if you want your kids top be taught well."

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