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Wisconsin Vouchers: Private School Subsidies

Disturbing news from Wisconsin:

Gov. Scott Walker has proposed eliminating income restrictions for participation in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, uncapping enrollment in the program and allowing private schools throughout Milwaukee County to accept vouchers from Milwaukee students. Walker also has spoken of expanding the voucher program to other urban areas, such as Racine, Green Bay and Beloit.

At the same time, the governor proposes slicing $834 million in state K-12 education spending over the next two years – a cut of nearly 8% from current funding. In all, Walker’s budget proposal would decrease the amount Milwaukee Public Schools can raise under revenue limits by about $50 million while diverting more state and city taxpayer dollars to private schools throughout Milwaukee County.

Basically, what this all amounts to is that in Wisconsin they are turning their backs on public education. By cutting $834 million and opening up school choice to everyone, it will harm public schools by taking more and more money available for them.  It’s the unsaid principle of many of the people who call themselves ed. reformers of today, privatization of schools.  Support for charter and private schools are way up (although studies show not a whole lot better than public school) and the public schools are seen as terrible institutions. State Superintendent Tony Evers (full disclosure: I voted for him last election) says in the article:

“This government subsidy has protected Milwaukee private schools from the market forces that have led to declining private enrollment statewide,” Evers said. “If only one in five students enrolled in a choice school pays tuition, then when do choice schools stop being private schools and become something else?”

This is what is happening with the voucher program in Wisconsin.  They are subsidizing these private schools.  I get weary whenever anybody uses free market fundamentalism to talk about education reform.  I think it makes sense to keep the market out of our education system.  It has already hurt it enough (see edubusiness: tests, test preparation, textbooks and how much money all that costs schools). Instead what we should be doing is spending more to support the public schools that support a majority of our students, but this is the opposite of what is happening in Wisconsin.  Walker has put the idea out there in Wisconsin that teachers are lazy, overpaid, and selfish and he also thinks that in general we spend too much on education.  I wonder does he think about how this will affect the students?

Another other things to note.  Jim Bender, vice president of government affairs for School Choice Wisconsin says:

Graduation rates are a far better predictor of future success, he said. Choice students who stay in private schools graduate at a rate of 94%, compared with 75% for MPS students, according to School Choice Wisconsin

Their are two reasons why choice students and for that matter charter schools tend to have higher graduation rates than public schools. One is that the parents of these students are usually more motivated and involved in their child’s education, which results in their child being better students.  This will lead to the best students leaving the public school and going to private schools.  This is going to take down all the scores for public schools and rob them of having the better students.  In charter schools they are spending a lot of money per student in many cases, but apparently according to Scott Walker, we already spend to much.  On charter schools, motivation, and spending, Diane Ravitch:

It is not only because charter schools may attract the most motivated students, may discharge laggards, and may enforce a tough disciplinary code, but also because the charters often get additional financial resources from their corporate sponsors, enabling them to offer smaller classes, after-school and enrichment activities, and laptop computers for every student.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How testing and choice are undermining education p. 136

Wouldn’t it be great if we did this for all schools public and private? Instead we boost these private schools and are cutting away from public schools.  The second reason why the data on graduation for private schools doesn’t impress me is because they can be more selective in who they admit, therefore limiting enrollment English language learners and students with special needs. Ravitch again:

When charters get outstanding results, researchers inevitably ask whether they enroll a fair share of the neediest students.  Some charters specifically serve English-language learners or special education students, and some do have their fair share.  But in many instances, charters avoid students with high needs, either because they lack the staff to educate them appropriately or because they fear that such students will depress their test scores.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How testing and choice are undermining education p. 134

We should be support public education the way that many people have backed charter and private schools.  Education is a right and should be available to everyone regardless of sex, race, sexuality, class, needs, and ability.  It should be something that as a society we should do together and not rely on the private sector to do for us.

James Baldwin said it best, “These are all our children, and we will benefit by or pay for what they become.”

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Categories: Uncategorized
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  1. 11/05/2012 at 11:21 pm

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