Saturday, September 12, 2015

WisGOP tries to grandfather another way to screw public schools

Here comes yet another bill that finds a way to throw more taxpayer-funded vouchers to Wisconsin students attending private schools. Assembly Bill 332 and its Senate companion SB 250 are sponsored by suburban Milwaukee legislators Rep. Joe Sanfelippo and Sen. Duey Stroebel - two of the biggest self-absorbed nuts in a Legislature filled with them.

As the Legislative Reference Bureau’s analysis of the bill points out, this would essentially allow for students who attended voucher schools in the previous year to be “grandfathered” in, and not face the prospect of not getting a voucher for attending the same private school in the next year if the child and his/her family want the kid to continue to attend that school. And the bill would be retroactive to this school year.
Under current law, the limit on the total number of pupils residing in a school district who may participate in the statewide parental choice program (pupil participation limit) in the 2015−16 and 2016−17 school years is 1 percent of the school district’s membership in the previous school year. Beginning with the 2017−18 school year, the pupil participation limit increases one percentage point each school year until the limit reaches 10 percent in the 2025−26 school year, after which there is no pupil participation limit in the statewide parental choice program.

This bill creates an exception to the pupil participation limit. The exception allows a pupil who attended a private school under the statewide parental choice program in the previous year to attend a private school under the statewide parental choice program if the pupil’s application to attend a private school under the statewide parental choice program is not accepted because the pupil’s resident school district has exceeded its pupil participation limit.
On its face, it seems like the suburb boys might merely be looking out for a constituent that might have attended a certain school last year, but couldn’t get one of the lottery spots this year for a voucher, and is in danger of having to leave the school. But the catch is that it adds to the amount of voucher students that can be in the program, leading to voucher enrollments and costs that are beyond the limitations that were put into the state budget that passed 2 months ago.And that's the giveaway that this is yet another ALEC-backed attempt to mess with K-12 education in Wisconsin.

Both the Assembly and Senate “grandfather clause voucher” bills were heard this week. Those hearings happened before the Department of Public Instruction gave its fiscal analysis on the bill, which gave an idea on how much those extra costs might be. What the DPI says is that any grandfathered students under this bill would be considered “continuing” voucher students, and therefore would be subject to old voucher rules that existed prior to the 2015-17 budget.
“Continuing” pupils in the statewide choice program will continue to be directly funded from the GPR sum sufficient appropriation; because there will be no offsetting aid reduction to school districts general aid payments for “continuing” choice pupils, the number of pupils participating in the statewide choice program as “continuing” pupils has a direct impact on the state’s general fund.

The impact on the state’s general fund due to this bill would be equal to the number of “continuing” pupils who would become eligible to continue participating in the statewide choice program, multiplied by the per pupil choice (voucher) payment amount for the pupil’s respective grade level. For the 2015-16 school year, the per pupil choice (voucher) payments are: $7,214 for pupils enrolled in grades K through 8; and $7,860 for pupils enrolled in grades 9 through 12.
In other words, state taxpayers will have to pay the full cost of each student grandfathered in under this law. This is in contrast to students that are new to the voucher program with the expansion that starts with this school year and gets larger over each of the next 10 years. Those voucher payments in the expansion program are directly offset by a reduction in state aid that is levied against the public schools that “lose” the students.

If this new "grandfather clause" affects only a handful of students, then it would not be a big deal to the overall K-12 budget, but if it’s a sizable amount of students, then it can be a significant extra expense. DPI goes on to note that if the bill did not pass, and the student transferred to public school, then state aid funds for all public schools would be redistributed appropriately (the school district receiving the student would get a little more, and all other districts may get a little less).

But what you can see where this bill becomes another method to expand the availability and spending on vouchers statewide, as more students can fall under the category of “continuing” voucher student each year. Therefore more students might be subject to this grandfather clause if a school or district’s allotment of voucher students is filled up, and it ends up costing taxpayers a lot of money over time, as well as expanding the voucher program well above the 1% a year limit that is under current law.

It’s also telling that the two organizations that have lobbied in favor of the bill are voucher front group School Choice Wisconsin, and the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity. They know this is another way to hurt Wisconsin’s public schools and funnel more taxpayer dollars to their organizations and the causes they support (which in turn, they funnel to the politicians they support). It is a chickenshit, backdoor way to try to grab even more money and power through children’s education, as this "grandfather clause" possibility was never discussed in the state budget, and it would have likely spurred even more outrage than Scott Walker’s and WisGOP’s already-awful K-12 budget did throughout Wisconsin.

This thing is supposed to be voted on by the Assembly Committee on Education next Thursday, would likely attempt to be jammed through the Senate Committee soon after, then it would head to the floor of the full Legislature. And they’re trying to do it without the public’s notice, which is exactly why I’m writing about it here.

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