Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

October 26, 2014

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Op-Ed: Facts show that voucher program hurts public schools

Filed under: American Injustice — millerlf @ 9:33 pm

By Larry Miller Oct. 25, 2014

Given the assertions made in a recent article, Journal Sentinel columnist Christian Schneider might be advised to read the Journal Sentinel more often (“In education, think of the invisible kid,” Crossroads, Oct. 12). If he did, he may have been able to convey more accurate factual information regarding education funding rather than perpetuating the false claims included in his column concerning invisible children.

The real facts and the numbers regarding per-student funding are anything but “invisible.” Here they are.

Fact: Milwaukee Public Schools’ per-student revenue for the average pupil was $9,921 in 2012-’13, utilizing the most recent published data and the comparison method relayed to the Journal Sentinel’s PolitiFact Wisconsin in April 2013 by groups as diverse as the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, School Choice Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

The higher per-student figure Schneider used for MPS is not only outdated but also inaccurate, especially given the comparison to voucher students that he made because, as the same PolitiFact Wisconsin article noted, “some federal dollars that flow, for example, through Milwaukee Public Schools actually go toward helping transport and support choice students. So the funds show up as revenue to MPS even though a portion is essentially in-kind revenue for choice schools.”

Logic tells you that you simply can’t count money that actually goes toward voucher students as money that is spent on MPS students. That math doesn’t work.

Fact: The vast majority of students participating in the statewide voucher program in its first year were already attending private schools, as the Journal Sentinel reported in October 2013. Schneider complains that “if statewide choice were eliminated, the invisible children in districts everywhere in the state could start showing up and driving up costs” when in reality the voucher program itself is driving up costs by publicly funding the education of students whose families were previously paying their own way in private schools. Costs don’t go down when the state is simply picking up the tab for current private school students; that math doesn’t work either.

The same phenomenon has occurred in the Milwaukee program. As the Journal Sentinel reported in February 2012, when the income limit in the program was raised, some of the first-year voucher students were tuition-paying students in private schools the prior year.

The Public Policy Forum, whose report was the basis of the Journal Sentinel article, concluded that “much” of the growth in voucher enrollment after the Milwaukee income cap was raised came from students whose families previously paid tuition.

Fact: While neither group’s overall performance is acceptable, low- and middle-income Milwaukee students utilizing vouchers to attend private schools performed at a lower level than students in MPS, and MPS educates a significantly higher percentage of students challenged by disabilities.
Schneider’s claim that vouchers give students “the chance to receive a top-flight education of their parents’ choosing” is not borne out by the numbers.

These are facts reported by the newspaper for which Schneider writes. Readers ought to be aware of them.

Larry Miller is a Milwaukee School Board member.

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