Mary Jarvis February 26, 2015 WausauDailyHerald.com
Know the facts about public schools vs. taxpayer-subsidized private schools.
A 21st-century public education system is the foundation of democracy and provides equal opportunity. The doors of public schools are wide open for all students and are essential to the well-being of our communities, state and country.
Do you know the difference between taxpayer subsidized private schools and our community public schools?
• Responsibilities and standards. Taxpayer-subsidized private schools do not need to hire highly qualified teachers and were not required to take state assessments until last year. Public schools are rated by the state every year, but taxpayer-subsidized private schools have a free ride from state report cards until 2017-18 or possibly later.
When taxpayer-subsidized private schools close, taxpayers can’t recoup our losses when displaced children return to public schools. When Life Skills Academy in Milwaukee closed in the middle of the night, $2.3 million tax dollars went down the drain.
• Funding. Wisconsin public schools were subjected to the largest cuts in the nation, totaling $1.6 billion, and there’s another $127 million cut on the table in the new budget proposal. As a result of continuing cuts in resources, there are fewer teachers and less one-on-one time for students. At the same time, taxpayer-subsidized private schools have skimmed $18.4 million dollars from public schools in 2013-2014 with a projection of $54.7 million going to them this year.
You may have noticed the significant increase in local referendums as state funding cuts to local schools, take their toll on students and communities especially rural areas. More communities than ever before are voting to raise their own local property taxes so children can still get a good education.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Nearly 80 percent of private school subsidy goes to students who never attended public schools in the first place — taxpayers are subsidizing private education at the expense of most of the children in our own neighborhoods.
• Special education. Taxpayer-subsidized private schools are only required to offer services to assist students with special needs that can be provided for with minor adjustments. Public schools employ licensed teachers, provide the full scope of special education and comply with federal law. As a result, subsidized private schools enroll far fewer children who require extra attention to succeed.
• Student achievement. Studies have found public schools to be equal or better performing than private institutions. This is true here in Wisconsin, where public school students are outperforming their peers in subsidized private schools. Taxpayer-subsidized private schools aren’t the answer to improving education. They ignore the real factors impacting student success — family income, involvement, and attendance.
• Public oversight. Taxpayer-subsidized private schools do not have democratically elected boards that represent the public — even though you, the taxpayer, are footing the bill. Private schools are not required to meet basic public standards, such as open meetings and records laws, or to publicly release test scores, dropout rates and other information.
• Responsibility to students. Many of the taxpayer-subsidized private schools springing up are private schools geared for profit and looking to advertise their way into getting tax dollars. Just look at the recent request by the subsidy lobby group to get the names, addresses and phone numbers of children in public schools. Subsidized private schools can spend your tax dollars any way they want, because there’s little oversight.
The bottom line: Public schools preserve our democracy and provide a fundamental public purpose for all. They are the heartbeat of thriving communities, the foundation of our quality of life. We need to support our neighborhood public schools so every child has a good public school to attend no matter where they live or what their family circumstances are.
Mary Jarvis of Wausau is a retired teacher and former president of the Wausau Education Association.