|When the chairs of the Wisconsin senate and assembly education committees spoke before a state school board conference, they knew they were going to get tough questions.Senator Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) and Representative Steve Kestell (R-Elkhart Lake) limited their remarks to the impact of the new state budget. They told members of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) that cuts were necessary because previous state budgets were balanced through onetime monies, raids on other funds, and accounting tricks. There were no magic tricks left. Both recognized the “tools” given to school boards didn’t solve all the school boards’ financial problems. The cuts to schools were real, acknowledged the legislators.
Then they waited for the questions. I doubt they got what they were expecting.
The questions quickly turned to school vouchers, and the questions weren’t just from Green Bay, Racine, or Milwaukee. No, the voucher questions came from rural, suburban and small town board members.
The legislators assured the school board members that vouchers would not be expanded to districts like Green Bay in the near future. But the voucher questions just kept coming.
Kestell told the school board members that the voucher program in Milwaukee saved state money that benefited school districts around Wisconsin. When I stated that the voucher program actually costs the taxpayers of Milwaukee more money because we get no state aid for the voucher children, Kestell responded that most school districts would love to get the kind of money Milwaukee gets in state aid. But the audience was not buying, and they may have been insulted by Kestell’s attempt to appeal to the self interest at the expense of Milwaukee.
So why did school board members from around the state react so negatively to the school voucher program?
Smaller Wisconsin communities are beginning to look a lot more like Milwaukee with increased minority student populations. The poverty rate has risen dramatically across this state. Schools are beginning to face levels of homelessness, mobility, unemployment, and families in crisis never seen before. The problems cannot be ignored.
So the attacks on Milwaukee are becoming attacks on all of them as well. They have seen vouchers go to Racine. They know there are conservative legislators that want to expand vouchers statewide. The proposal to create a state board to authorize charters for any school district with more than 2000 students is simply an expansion of the voucher program by another name.
I didn’t know how strongly my fellow school board members felt. Their interest went beyond their own individual districts and embraced every child in every community. I’m only sorry I didn’t print up a sign for the meeting which simply said-
“We are Milwaukee”
I know a lot of Wisconsin school boards members would have held those signs high.
(For more blogs by MPS School Board Director Terry Falk go to: http://www.insidemilwaukee.com/Author/Terrence_Falk)
November 7, 2011
Growing Resentment Toward Vouchers by State School Board Members
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