Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

January 5, 2011

Beloit Next for Vouchers? GOP looks at expanding private school vouchers

Filed under: Uncategorized — millerlf @ 7:49 am

Beloit part of voucher plan?

By Justin Weaver
jweaver@beloitdailynews.com
Published: Tuesday, January 4, 2011

GOP looks at expanding private school choice markets

The new Wisconsin governor is considering sweeping reforms in Madison, one of which could directly impact Beloit schools.

Gov. Scott Walker and the incoming Republican legislature assumed power in the state Monday and wasted no time in introducing the possibility of expanding the state’s school voucher program. The program, presently instituted in the Milwaukee area, allows students to receive taxpayer-financed vouchers to attend private schools, including religious schools. Just under 21,000 of the maximum 22,500 students enrolled in the program this year.

The governor has identified Beloit as one place where the vouchers could be phased in as part of a trial effort to spread the program statewide.

“I think school choice is successful,” Walker told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “I think it’s worth looking at expanding it. How do you do that? There’s really a multitude of options, not only those being discussed in other parts of the country. And we want to continue to be at the forefront of that.”

Beloit School District Superintendent Milt Thompson said he views the potential voucher introduction as yet another reason for the district to reassess its direction.

“My concern is that the district has to become conscious of today’s market. If you have a system that is attractive, people will send their kids here. If you don’t, the days of an educational monopoly are over,” he said.

Thompson recently introduced an elaborate proposal to reorganize the district into a K-8 magnet model program, which would eliminate the present elementary and middle schools by replacing them with scholastic academies organized much in the way of a university.

“You have districts on both sides of the state line that have attracted students away from Beloit. That’s the reason for this K-8 idea,” Thompson said. “This district needs to appeal to the talents and interests of our students. We have to figure out a system that is attractive to all students amid state-endorsed competition.”

In an ironic twist, Thompson finds himself fending off private schools after he had spent years building his own as executive director of 21st Century Preparatory School in Racine. The same vouchers that could impact Beloit’s schools were an asset in Thompson’s efforts toward building his Racine school, lessons that he hopes to apply to this inverse situation.

“I want to create schools like the one I was in on the opposite side of the fence. You want to simulate their success,” he said. “We need to look at things we can learn from them and understand what they’re doing that we’re not doing.”

Often the only reason parents don’t send their children to private schools instead of public schools is cost, an obstacle that would be lifted with vouchers and leave schools like Beloit to rest solely on their laurels, Thompson said.

“The question is whether there are people out there that aren’t sending their child to private school because of cost or because they believe in the public school system and the type of education experience they had growing up,” he said. “For the longest time we had the captivation of the primary audience because the cost of private school was not attractive. Vouchers change that.”

It’s key that public schools begin to recognize private schools as a legitimate threat to enrollment, Thompson said.

“GM used to be the big dog in auto manufacturing. Now GM is just a bit player to me. Public schools need to think like they’re the underdog,” he said. “The arrogance of complacency is what destroys all organizations. I’m afraid if we are not a careful organization that our complacency is going to make us irrelevant. We need to change the status quo. If we don’t change, they will.”

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