Saturday, November 1, 2014

Two-tier education in Fitzwalkerstan- vouchers win, rural schools lose

As the election nears, we are already seeing the evidence of the damage and money-funneling that the education policy of Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP has done to the state's education system. Two articles this week did a great job of illustrating how things are really working (and not working) when it comes to K-12 education in the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.

Let me guide you to an article that slipped out in the Green Bay Press-Gazette on Thursday. It has the unambiguous title of "Rural schools: State funding system "broke," and goes into detail about a panel discussion held in Ashwaubenon where small-school officials in northeastern Wisconsin talked about the struggles they face, and how pro-voucher Walker/WisGOP policies have made it much worse.
Oconto Falls School Administrator Dave Polashek moderated the event, saying that rural schools serve as vital resources in their communities and frequently remain open late at night for people to meet or conduct civic functions.

With state funding cuts, Polashek said, "It's getting more and more difficult to keep those lights on."

Other participants described the difficulty of adjusting to lost state funding, with staff taking on extra duties, working to meet tough standards with fewer resources and relying on aging equipment such as school buses.

Ben Niehaus, administrator of the Goodman-Armstrong Creek School District in Marinette County, said he recently became administrator of the neighboring Florence School District, too, in effort to save money on overhead costs.

Despite such attempts to streamline, Niehaus said both districts are continuing to suffer financially in the face of dwindling state aid.

The growing voucher program has forced taxpayers to subsidize private schools in addition to funding their public school districts, Niehaus said. The arrangement has effectively created two separate school systems without providing adequate resources, he said.
These districts are not growing much (if at all) in student population or local tax base, but the needs to educate their kids are still there, the needs to transport the kids to school are still there, and Act 10's "tools" have already been used up. Maybe cutting the state aids and keeping them below 2007 levels (BEFORE inflation) isn't such a good idea, eh?

On the flip side, Andy at the Wisconsin Soapbox has an excellent rundown about how the statewide expansion of vouchers has worked in the Fond du Lac area. Basically, vouchers have been a boon to Fondy's private schools, serving as an extra (taxpayer-funded) subsidy to teach kids that were already attending these schools. Lots of information in the Soapbox blog comes from this article in the Fond du Lac Reporter, which shows how the voucher system is REALLY working for Fond du Lac St. Mary's Springs and the Winnebago Lutheran Academy, and it's not in the way that those many voucher lobby ads claim it does. The FdL Reporter quotes are in italics.
Okay, so tuition is $5,225 per year (and the school covers the rest by church funds? How much is a voucher worth again for a high schooler? Answer - $7,856. That means at least with every student the school nets from the voucher program, WLA is making $506. When you take out the tuition and look at only the "net" increase and money that the church saves because of the voucher, that's $2,631 PER STUDENT that WLA saves with a voucher every year.

That's not chump change.

All of the voucher freshmen were new students to WLA, the rest were existing students. Total enrollment is 331 students.

"We were guaranteed 10 students, so anything more than that is a bonus for us," Schroeder said.

Cha-Ching! Cha-Ching! Cha-Ching!

At Springs, 20 choice students were rolled forward from last year, said President Kevin Shaw.

"This year we received 25 additional students, including seven new SMSA students," he said. "Each year we qualified for 10 students but then received more students in the second draw."

So, they in effect just admitted that they only received seven new students out of 25 who are new voucher students. That means 18 students at Springs were already there but now are having the state bankroll the instead of them paying tuition or Springs providing them scholarships.

In other words, not only are these religious schools getting taxpayer dollars with little to no strings attached (a sketchy enough proposition in some circles), but it's more than the cost of tuition, meaning those schools are free to use the extra money for other purposes, including those not related to education. What a deal!

In the meantime, because the amount of state tax dollars that are available are limited, this means that the money going to the voucher schools to teach kids THAT ALREADY WERE AT THE SCHOOL BEFORE THE VOUCHER FUNDS CAME IN is being taken away from other public schools, especially the rural public schools that have little other way to support their education systems. Well, other than levying property taxes in areas that don't have a lot of property to tax, which makes the downward spiral of the schools and the communities they're in accelerate. Which is the exact opposite of what Wisconsin used to pride itself on- having high-level public services that didn't leave small towns out in the cold, and gave students from those communities the base of education to have a fighting chance to make it in the wider, more competitive world once they graduated from high school.

These cracks in our state's education system are already showing up. If the people of this state are foolish enough to re-elect Scott Walker and this GOP legislature on Tuesday, these policies will be turned up to the next level. And those cracks are likely to become "wrecked beyond repair" with another 4 years of this defunding of public education in favor of adding taxpayer dollars to religious schools. So let's not allow that happen, shall we?


  1. Maybe teachers should just do there job and teach or quit and go work in a mill sometimes we have to make do with what we have as a district stop relying on the state so much and pitch in as parents and grand parents and responsible educators to make the best of the situation and show these kids perseverance in the face of adversity instead of pointing fingers at each other and passing blame

    1. This is a satire of the type of dumbass who blew off school, never learned punctuation in the process, and then blames teachers for their mediocrity in the adult world. Riiight?