“Vouchers are a double whammy,” Racine Unified Superintendent Jim Shaw said at a new conference. “They decrease resources for public education and raise taxes for the local taxpayer.”
DPI chief, Racine superintendent decry voucher plan
By Amy Hetzner of the Journal Sentinel May 19, 2011
Racine – In a pre-emptive attack on the possible expansion of private school vouchers into Racine, the local and state schools superintendents warned Thursday that such a move would hurt Racine Unified School District, increase local taxes and not raise student achievement.
“Vouchers are a double whammy,” Racine Unified Superintendent Jim Shaw said at a new conference held at Walden III Middle and High School, a magnet school within the district. “They decrease resources for public education and raise taxes for the local taxpayer.”
Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s superintendent of public instruction, accused Gov. Scott Walker of “another fit of fuzzy thinking” in recently announcing to a Washington D.C. advocacy group his intention to bring private school vouchers to urban areas like Racine, Beloit and Green Bay.
He called such a move “morally wrong” and pointed to recent results that showed voucher students in Milwaukee’s private schools do no better on standardized tests than students in Milwaukee Public Schools. “It’s clear that some people don’t want to hear news that may be inconsistent with their ideology,” Evers said.
Evers also warned that vouchers would cause property taxes to increase “probably somewhere in the range of 15%.” A Department of Public Instruction spokesman said that estimate was based on Milwaukee’s experience, where local taxpayers pay a higher amount in property taxes to send a child to a private voucher school than they do per student in MPS.
When asked to respond to Evers’ remarks, Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said the governor was still exploring ways to expand school choice across the state.
“While the long-term goal would be to increase competition thus improving education for all students across the state, in a practical sense we need to ensure the transition to this type of educational atmosphere can be feasibly implemented,” Werwie wrote in an email.
Racine voucher backers disputed Evers’ calculations and Shaw’s warning about the effect on Racine Unified.
Laura Sumner Coon, who heads a Racine group that provides private school scholarships to low-income children, accused the public school officials of using scare tactics in their Thursday presentation.
She said few students are likely to participate in the early years of the program and that the school district can minimize enrollment losses because of the state’s use of a three-year rolling average for calculating revenue. She predicted that, at most, about $1 million would be diverted to private schools by the third year of a voucher program, which she said was a small amount for the state’s fourth largest school district.
“I don’t think that’s raising taxpayer dollars,” she said.
Despite Walker’s announcement of a possible expansion to Racine and other communities, no such proposal has been introduced in the Legislature and the governor has not released details of what such a system could look like. Some Republican leaders also have expressed skepticism about expanding the voucher program beyond Milwaukee.
But Evers predicted that such an expansion would be included in the 2011-’13 biennial budget, which is due to be passed before the end of June. “It’s a significant debate that we have coming,” he said Thursday. “We have to make sure we win it.”