Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

March 24, 2017

Wisconsin State Payments Per Pupil for Private School Vouchers Set to Exceed Public Schools

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 1:36 pm

OneWisconsin  March 23, 2017

Less Accountable, Growing Private Voucher Program Puts Bigger Strain on Public Schools, Taxpayers

MADISON, Wis. — Under Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-led legislature, less accountable private voucher schools have reaped a financial windfall both in the amount of state tax dollars they receive and the number of students for which they are paid state tax dollars. As reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, all across Wisconsin public schools are now feeling financial pressure as the voucher program drains resources from them, and new data shows per pupil state revenue payments for vouchers are on average poised to exceed those for public schools.

“Once again we see how Gov. Walker and his Republican allies have tipped the scales in favor of private school vouchers, and how the rest of us are paying for it,” commented Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now Executive Director.

A memo released this week from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau finds Gov. Walker’s 2017-19 state budget would hike state general purpose revenue supported payments to private voucher schools to between $7,757 and $8,403 by 2018. By comparison, the memo reports state revenue support per pupil support for public schools would be $6,703 under Walker’s budget plan.

The statewide expansion of the voucher program and funding changes passed by Walker and the Republican controlled state legislature mean that resources are now taken directly away from public schools to subsidize private school vouchers.

According to data from the Department of Public Instruction and as reported in the media, the majority of students participating in the expanded statewide voucher program were attending private school before getting a publicly funded voucher.

While private schools are able to collect public tax dollars through the voucher program they are not held to the same standards as public schools. Research in Wisconsin and nationally has also found that less accountable private voucher schools produce no better and in some cases worse student achievement.

The growth of the private school voucher industry in Wisconsin has been fueled by campaign donations and spending on behalf of state politicians by voucher backers. Among the prominent backers of pro-voucher Wisconsin politicians is Donald Trump’s Education Secretary, Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos. She and her family are among the individuals who, as of last year, larded Gov. Walker with $2 million in direct contributions. Overall, pro-school privatization individuals have made $4 million in direct contributions to Wisconsin political candidates from 2008-2016. DeVos’s American Federation for Children (AFC), a pro-voucher special interest group, has also spent over $5 million to help its favored politicians in Wisconsin.

In addition, One Wisconsin Now’s research found that the Bradley Foundation, until recently overseen by Gov. Walker’s gubernatorial and presidential campaign chair, has underwritten a massive pro-voucher propaganda campaign. Between 2005 and 2014 the Milwaukee based right wing foundation poured $108 million into groups supporting vouchers.

Ross concluded, “Private school vouchers are a financial albatross on state taxpayers and public schools. We see again how the only people they’re paying off for are the private schools taking vouchers and the Republican politicians that keep taking our money and spending it on the program support by their donors.”

# # #

One Wisconsin Now is a statewide communications network specializing in effective earned media and online organizing to advance progressive leadership and values.


February 12, 2017

Barbara Miner L.A. Times Op-ed: Critique of Private School Vouchers

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 10:11 am

If you care about our public schools and our democracy, beware of Betsy DeVos and her vouchers

Betsy DeVos’ confirmation marks the first time a vice president’s tie-breaking vote was needed to confirm a presidential Cabinet appointment. Feb. 7, 2017.

Barbara Miner:  L.A. Times Feb.9, 2017

The confirmation hearings for Betsy DeVos provided an inordinate amount of drama: guns and grizzlies, an all-night talkathon on the Senate floor, and Vice President Mike Pence’s tie-breaking vote — and with good reason.

DeVos, now confirmed as secretary of Education, is not just another inexperienced member of the president’s Cabinet. She is an ideologue with a singular educational passion — replacing our system of democratically controlled public schools with a universal voucher program that privileges private and religious ones.

If you care about our public schools and our democracy, you should be worried.

Every state constitution enshrines the right to a free education for all children, and the U.S. Supreme Court has long upheld this right. In its landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, the high court noted that “education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments.” It went on to recognize its role in a democratic society, calling education “the very foundation of good citizenship.”

Given the controversy surrounding DeVos, Republicans initially may go easy in pushing school vouchers. But beware the bait and switch, the seemingly reasonable initiative that disguises radical change.

Since 1990, roughly $2 billion in public money has been funneled into private and religious schools in Wisconsin, and the payments keep escalating.

For more than a quarter-century, I have reported on the voucher program in Milwaukee: the country’s first contemporary voucher initiative and a model for other cities and state programs, from Cleveland to New Orleans, Florida to Indiana.

Milwaukee’s program began in 1990, when the state Legislature passed a bill allowing 300 students in seven nonsectarian private schools to receive taxpayer-funded tuition vouchers. It was billed as a small, low-cost experiment to help poor black children, and had a five-year sunset clause.

That was the bait. The first “switch” came a few weeks later, when the Republican governor eliminated the sunset clause. Ever since, vouchers have been a divisive yet permanent fixture in Wisconsin.

Conservatives have consistently expanded the program, especially when Republicans controlled the state government. (Vouchers have never been put to a public vote in Wisconsin.) Today, some 33,000 students in 212 schools receive publicly funded vouchers, not just in Milwaukee but throughout Wisconsin. If it were its own school district, the voucher program would be the state’s second largest. The overwhelming majority of the schools are religious.

Voucher schools are private schools that have applied for a state-funded program that pays tuition for some or all of its student body. Even if every single student at a school receives a publicly funded voucher, as is the case in 22 of Milwaukee’s schools, that school is still defined as private.

Because they are defined as “private,” voucher schools operate by separate rules, with minimal public oversight or transparency. They can sidestep basic constitutional protections such as freedom of speech. They do not have to provide the same level of second-language or special-education services. They can suspend or expel students without legal due process. They can ignore the state’s requirements for open meetings and records. They can disregard state law prohibiting discrimination against students on grounds of sex, pregnancy, sexual orientation, or marital or parental status.

Wisconsin has sunk so deep into this unaccountable world that our voucher program not only turns a blind eye toward discrimination in voucher schools, it forces the public to pay for such discrimination.

I attended Catholic schools, and believe that this country’s long-standing defense of religious liberty is a hallmark of our democracy. But the voucher program has distorted this all-important concept of religious freedom.

In the guise of governmental noninterference in religious matters, the voucher program allows private schools to use public dollars to proselytize and teach church doctrine that is at odds with public policy — for instance, that women must be submissive to men, that homosexuality is evil, that birth control is a sin, and that creationism is scientifically sound.

Privatizing an essential public function and forcing the public to pay for it, even while removing it from meaningful public oversight, weakens our democracy. And we aren’t talking about insignificant amounts of money. Since 1990, roughly $2 billion in public money has been funneled into private and religious schools in Wisconsin, and the payments keep escalating. This year alone, the tab is some $248 million.

For more than 25 years, conservatives have used the seductive rhetoric of “choice” to blur the difference between public and private schools. It has been a shrewd move. Individual choice has long been considered a component of liberty.

Used appropriately, choice can help ensure that public education is sensitive to the varying needs and preferences of students and families. But when it comes to voucher schools, it’s clear that “choice” is also code for funneling tax dollars away from public schools and into private and religious schools.

No one doubts our public school systems have deep-seated problems. But the solution is to fix them, not abandon them. Our public schools are the only institutions with the commitment, the capacity, and the legal obligation to teach all children.

With DeVos’ confirmation, the entire country now must answer this question: If public education is an essential bedrock of our democracy, why are we undermining it?

Barbara Miner is a Milwaukee based reporter and the author of “Lessons from the Heartland: A Turbulent Half-Century of Public Education in an Iconic American City” (The New Press, 2013).

Bruce Murphy on Erin Richards Critique of Vouchers

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 10:10 am

Murphy’s Law

Taking Aim at Voucher Schools

Erin Richards, JS reporter’s story, details disturbing problems — but not in her own newspaper. See Erin Richards’ American Prospect article in full at:

By Bruce Murphy – Feb 9th, 2017 UrbanMilwaukee

A recent, in-depth story in the liberal American Prospect, “Milwaukee’s Voucher Verdict,” raises troubling questions about choice schools. Curiously, it was written by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Erin Richards while she was on leave from her job, and nothing like it has been published in the newspaper. Even more curious, Richards was the reporter that then-Milwaukee School President Michael Bonds wanted the JS to remove from the education beat, and yet her story if anything suggests more sympathy for public schools.

But it would be a mistake to pigeon hole the story, which is thoughtful, broad in sweep and ultimately a very disturbing look at a Milwaukee education scene where not much seems to be working. Richards begin with a description of the Ceria M. Travis Academy, a fly-by-night K-12 choice school where a teacher was given no curriculum, few books (one out of date) and where just “one student scored at least ‘proficient’ in language arts on the latest state exams, and none were proficient in math, science, or social studies.”

“Half a mile away at Holy Redeemer Christian Academy—another fixture in the blighted neighborhood, where it’s dangerous to walk alone even in broad daylight—just 4 out of 206 pupils tested were proficient in English on the latest state tests. None were proficient in math,” Richards recounts. “Together, Travis Academy and Holy Redeemer have received close to $100 million in taxpayer funding over the years.”

That a school like Travis Academy has been in operation for two decades, Richards writes, calls into question the philosophy behind private school choice, that “Introducing competition to the government monopoly on public schools will lead to higher academic performance.”

From there the story makes many punchy observations, including:

-The 2010 wave election that brought in many Republican-run statehouses has greatly increased voucher programs, growing from 15 states and 24 programs that year to 28 states and 61 programs in 2016, with some voucher programs now reaching beyond low-income students to include the middle class.

-Public money for vouchers doesn’t require much public information. Voucher schools in Wisconsin, “thanks to expansions signed by Republican Governor Scott Walker since 2011—are not compelled by law to hold public meetings or disclose high school graduation or dropout rates. They are not obligated to make public any data on student suspension or expulsion or attendance rates, or any information on teachers, from salaries to absenteeism to a simple roster.”

-Though vouchers were supposed to improve education in Milwaukee, choice schools on average do about as poorly as public schools, and the exceptions among choice schools have tended to be Catholic and Lutheran schools, “which would have never maintained a presence in the inner city serving poor children without taxpayer assistance.”

-There are no state policies in Wisconsin that aim to expand good choice schools and shut down the many dreadful schools because “choice advocates don’t want to give more power to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction,” which is seen as an advocate of public schools.

-The minority of voucher schools may benefit from weeding out difficult students. Many have stringent discipline policies that allow expulsion for vaguely described offenses. “Grade promotion records… revealed many voucher schools had a student population that dramatically diminished as the grade levels advanced.” The most robust study of choice schools found “more than half the students who started ninth grade in a voucher high school were not still there by 12th grade.” (And when those students leave, they can by law go back to Milwaukee Public Schools.)

-Higher-performing choice schools tend to attract more parents “who are well equipped to make educational decisions.” To enroll at St. Marcus Lutheran, a showcase school for voucher success, parents have to “sign a covenant agreeing to get their child to school on time and to oversee homework… agree to sit down with teachers in their home at least once a year, and attend parent-teacher meetings. And they have to find their own transportation, as St. Marcus does not provide busing.” Public schools can’t make such requirements.

-The disappointing results of voucher schools, instead of triggering calls for change, have simply shifted the rationale for them. “Instead of being championed as a panacea for failing urban schools… choice is now being positioned as a fundamental right that should be guaranteed to all families.” (Republicans, I might add, have also increasingly justified them as cheaper than public schools.)

-As more states have approved voucher programs nationwide public support for them has fallen. “Between 2012 and 2016, nationwide public support for vouchers targeted at low-income students fell from 55 percent to 43 percent.” Interestingly, the support for vouchers was higher among Democrats than Republicans.

-As Wisconsin led the way in choice schools, other states put more emphasis on charter schools. That seems like a great misfortune. For what Richards’ story strongly suggests (and high-profile voucher supporter Howard Fuller concluded at least a decade ago) is that giving low-income parents the power to choose their child’s school does not result in bad ones being rejected. Quite the contrary.

In short, it appears we need the “nanny state” or some form of government oversight, which is what you get in charter schools: In Milwaukee that could be city government or UW-Milwaukee, for instance, that operate as the chartering authority. As Urban Milwaukee columnist and former Milwaukee School Board member Bruce Thompson has concluded, charter schools that are independent of MPS have had pretty promising results.

And it may be that Catholic and Lutheran schools, because they are part of a system of schools, also have more oversight than other choice schools. (The impact of religion is probably a factor as well.)

We might have had many more of these independent charter schools if not for the all the GOP political pressure and conservative Bradley Foundation funding for choice schools.

I supported school choice as an experimental program back in 1990, but the experiment has gone on for 27 years and choice schools in Milwaukee now constitute what amounts to the second largest school district in the state. And there is no evidence that education in Milwaukee has improved as a result. At what point will this be recognized by state and local policymakers? Clearly we need a new approach.

Richards completed this article while on leave from the Journal Sentinel, and with support from the Spencer Fellowship in Education Reporting at Columbia University. It’s certainly timely, given President Trump’s promise to spend $20 billion in federal funds on choice and charter schools. The experience of Milwaukee, the national trailblazer for vouchers, strongly suggests choice is not the way to go.

The brief controversy over Richards’ reporting in Milwaukee, which arose in the fall of 2014, was reported by Urban Milwaukee and was something of a comedy of errors. There is little evidence anyone with MPS besides Michael Bonds was pushing to replace Richards. And the idea that she has it in for public schools is hard to square with her American Prospect piece.

Of course, reporters like Richards must deal with editors, who can sometimes shape the direction of stories. Beyond that, the conventions of daily journalism, with the inverted pyramid narrative and “balanced” reporting, can often result in murky stories that leave readers with more questions than answers. Richards tells me she hopes to do a two-part article on some of her findings for the Journal Sentinel. I doubt it will be as incisive as this story.

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here. 

January 7, 2017

Democratic Senator Kathleen Vinehout criticizes pro-voucher candidate for State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Filed under: State Supt of Public Instruction,Vouchers — millerlf @ 9:29 am

The following two links show the upcoming debate at the state level on MPS, vouchers, and the election of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction in April. The first news release is from John Humphries, a pro-voucher candidate for State Superintendent. The second is a response to Humphries by Democratic State Senator, Kathleen Vinehout.

University of Arkansas Researchers Recycle Debunked Voucher Claims Regarding Crime Reduction

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 9:25 am

Key Takeaway: Report uses unwarranted causal language throughout, while cheerleading for “Education Savings Account” legislation.

Find Documents:

Press Release:


William J. Mathis: (802) 383-0058,
Clive Belfield: (917) 821-9219,

More NEPC Resources on Vouchers

BOULDER, CO (January 4, 2017) – A new report from the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform claims that Texas voucher legislation would reduce crime and thereby save the state a cumulative $194 million by the end of 2035. This claim is not warranted and has, in fact, already been discredited.

The report’s calculations arise from another University of Arkansas analysis, by the same authors. The Arkansas researchers had argued that some subgroups of voucher-receiving students in Milwaukee, Wisconsin were less likely to commit crimes as adults. That earlier analysis was reviewed in April 2016 by Clive Belfield, Professor of Economics at Queens College, City University of New York.

There exist multiple errors and limitations in the two Arkansas analyses, but perhaps the most important are the poorly grounded claims regarding causation. As Professor Belfield explained, no causal inferences can be drawn from the type of data and analyses used by the researchers. This means that the researchers cannot responsibly make claims about “results” and “impacts”, as they do in their Texas report.

Professor Belfield observed that, far from establishing a causal relationship between voucher program participation and a reduction in criminal behavior, the Arkansas researchers had not even established meaningful and consistent correlations. As Belfield pointed out, one valid interpretation of the data and analyses presented in the earlier report is that vouchers and crime are, in fact, not correlated.

Instead of engaging with Professor Belfield’s critique of their Milwaukee report, the Arkansas authors used the unconvincing results of that study, plugged in crime numbers from Texas, and estimated that if that state’s legislators were to create a type of voucher program called “Education Savings Accounts” they would (19 years from now) have, in the aggregate, saved their state almost two-hundred million dollars.

“This is a textbook example of garbage-in, garbage-out,” said Professor Kevin Welner of the University of Colorado Boulder, who directs the National Education Policy Center. “A figure derived from a study that does not allow for causal inference cannot then be brought back from the dead and magically support a causal inference in another study six months later. This sort of zombie causation could not possibly be of use to lawmakers looking for trustworthy information.”

Find Professor Belfield’s review on the web at:

Find the recent Arkansas report on the web at:

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit us at:

Subscribe to NEPC Email Press Releases


November 24, 2016

Wisconsin school-choice supporters cheer DeVos pick

Filed under: American Federation for Children,Trump,Vouchers — millerlf @ 7:25 am

Jim Bender, of School Choice Wisconsin, celebrates the decisions of Trump, the President elected on a platform of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia

Erin Richards , Milwaukee Journal Sentinel November 23, 2016

With her deep ties to Wisconsin’s private-school choice movement and disdain for unions thwarting reforms, Betsy DeVos, president-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Education Secretary, was a name that sent shock waves through the state’s education circles Wednesday.

“It is completely jazzing the entire school-choice community nationwide,” said Jim Bender, president of advocacy group School Choice Wisconsin. “It’s like, game on.”

Gov. Scott Walker congratulated DeVos, whom he called his friend, on Twitter while Democratic Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan tweeted the nomination was “really bad news for public schools.”

DeVos is married to Dick DeVos, and both are heirs to the fortune amassed by Michigan-based direct sales company Amway, which was co-founded by Dick’s father, Richard DeVos. Betsy DeVos was active in Republican politics and has focused on schools as board chair of her national advocacy group, American Federation for Children, based in Washington, D.C. The group has funneled millions of dollars into campaigns around the country to elect school choice friendly lawmakers and to lobby aggressively for school choice legislation.

AFC spent almost $5 million on Wisconsin elections alone since 2010, according to liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, which railed against DeVos in a statement Wednesday.

“Being a billionaire whose hobby is underwriting campaigns to steal our public school dollars and send them to unaccountable private schools disqualifies her from being our Secretary of Education,” the statement said.

DeVos believes in upending the status quo in education and has denounced politics and slow-moving governmental processes as methods for doing so. Instead, she supports competition in the form of charter schools and voucher schools to provide more educational opportunities.

“How many of you believe our education system will ever be fixed by political parties?” she asked in Austin last year when she spoke at the SXSW education conference. “I have some bad news for you,” she continued for anyone whose hands were raised. “You are delusional.”

The American Federation for Children actually had its origins in Milwaukee in 1998; it operated under a different name and helped support the Milwaukee voucher program. DeVos remains close with Scott Jensen, the former Republican speaker of the state Assembly who was barred from running for public office in Wisconsin after his role in the state caucus scandal. Since 2010, Jensen has been a senior adviser for AFC, a position that’s allowed him to skillfully direct the nonprofit’s efforts to spread school choice programs in the form of vouchers, tax credits and education savings accounts.

Bender said the DeVos nomination is a powerful show of support for Trump’s agenda for change, which includes a proposal to make $20 billion available for children to attend the public or private schools of their choice. There is no plan yet for where that federal money would come from.

“There will be two big winners: The roles of local units of government and the role that parents play in education,” Bender said. “It looks like you’re going to have a de-emphasis put on the role of the federal government in education.”

Bill Hughes, chief academic officer of the Seton Catholic Schools network in Milwaukee and a former public-schools superintendent, said the DeVos nomination is a clear shift in educational direction that’s somewhat consistent with where Wisconsin has been heading for years.

“There is going to be considerable discussion and ferment about all of this — which should lead to better policy and ultimately better schools in public, choice and charter sectors,” Hughes said.

Contact Erin Richards at or (414) 224-2705 or @emrichards.



October 25, 2016

Wisconsin’s Special Needs Voucher Program Only Fills Half the Available Seats; Many Go to Existing Voucher Students

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 3:27 pm

Note the reporting on St. Marcus (highlighted in report).

Date: October 24, 2016 Stop Special Needs Vouchers <>

Greetings from Stop Special Needs Vouchers!  Please feel free to forward widely, and be sure to VOTE!

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has released the 2016 enrollment figures for the “Special Needs Scholarship Program,” which was passed in the most recent Wisconsin state budget without a public-hearing opportunity for families or community members to express our concerns. Families who accept the special needs vouchers must give up their rights and protections under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), including the right to a free appropriate public education, the right to have disability considered when it comes to suspension and expulsion, and the right to recourse in case of a dispute.  Public schools, meanwhile, must follow the full IDEA and educate all students regardless of disability.

The DPI press release is online at

Even after changing the law to allow current private-school students at participating schools to receive the special needs vouchers, the program was only able to fill 206 of the 408 available seats at 26 participating schools.

To qualify for a special needs voucher, a student must have been denied open-enrollment between public school districts. Families with Stop Special Needs Vouchers warned that this would lead to a rush of open-enrollment applications merely to qualify for the voucher. It appears that this has come to pass.  The after-the-fact “fix” to the law allowed current private school students to pursue open-enrollment denials in 2016 even if they had never sought open enrollment before, and participating schools instructed current families to do just that.

As reported in the Journal Sentinel 10/23 (Special Needs Vouchers Cost Districts $2.4 Million in Aid), “St. Marcus Lutheran School, where almost all children attend with a Milwaukee Parental Choice Program voucher worth about $7,300 annually, shifted almost 70 students onto special-needs vouchers.
    St. Marcus leaders directed their parents of children with disabilities to apply for open enrollment at suburban districts that they knew had no seats available and that they knew their parents had no desire to attend. Once the districts denied the applications, the St. Marcus children were eligible for the higher-paying vouchers.”

Among the 26 participating special needs voucher schools, programming and staff qualification varies widely. Several of the schools have no certified special education staff, and only one specifies that it is wheelchair accessible. Participating schools are not required to provide their suspension/expulsion policies in their profiles.

The profiles of the special needs voucher schools are online at

Voucher-school families can find instructions for submitting disability-related complaints to DPI at  However, the instructions caution that DPI may not have the authority to address the complaint.

Meanwhile, voucher lobbyists are preparing for more special needs voucher legislation in 2017.  Again from the Journal Sentinel: “Jim Bender, the president of the pro-voucher group School Choice Wisconsin, said the enrollment process and subsequent funding for special-needs vouchers will be part of the upcoming legislative session.”

It remains to be seen how many special needs voucher students will be returning to the public schools now that the fall semester count is complete. Stop Special Needs Vouchers will continue to advocate for providing the resources that our kids need to succeed in the public schools, where the doors are open to all, and students with disabilities have their full IDEA rights and recourse.


Your Vote Matters for Students with Disabilities!

Early voting is underway across Wisconsin, through 5pm or close-of-business on Friday November 4 — Election Day is Tuesday November 8!  Every municipality sets its own early voting schedule; check with your local voting official to learn hours and locations in your area.

A reporter for the Washington Post recently asked presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to respond to questions on education:

Mr. Trump did not respond in detail, but provided a short statement beginning:”As your president, I will be the nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice.”  Further information can be found in the national Republican Party platform, which echoes the Choice Act proposal for allowing IDEA funding to flow to private schools that are not required to follow the IDEA: “We propose that the bulk of federal money through Title I for low-income children and through IDEA for children with special needs should follow the child to whatever school the family thinks will work best for them.”

Secretary Clinton did respond in detail, including the following statement: “Private schools can decline to accept students with disabilities, refuse to abide by the Individualized Education Plans of students they do accept, and segregate students with disabilities away from other kids. That’s why I believe we should keep public resources in our public schools.”

Where do your local candidates stand on public education for students with disabilities?  Be sure to find out, and take their positions into account when you vote!


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For an introduction to Stop Special Needs Vouchers, visit our website at:

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Voucher Enrollment Up. Now 28,000 Vouchers in Milwaukee.

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 3:27 pm
School voucher programs grow in 2015-’16

Wisconsin is expected to spend almost $245 million on private school vouchers for the 2016-’17 school year, up almost $15 million from a year ago, driven by double-digit enrollment increases in the Racine and statewide programs.

Overall, 33,781 students received vouchers to attend one of the 209 participating private schools in the Milwaukee, Racine and statewide Parental Choice programs, up about 5% over last year.

Milwaukee remains the state’s largest and costliest program with 28,188 students, up almost 2% over last year. But enrollments surged in the other two programs, rising 19% to 2,532 students in Racine and 21.4% to 3,061 elsewhere across the state.

“We’re seeing more and more demand for parental choice programs” outside of Milwaukee, said Jim Bender, president of the advocacy group School Choice Wisconsin. “The more parents learn about the program, the more they want it,” he said.

The Racine program held steady with 19 participating schools. But the statewide program, which started in 2013 with 511 students in 25 private schools, now has the same number of voucher schools as Milwaukee’s decades-old program: 121. Both seats and schools are likely to rise in the coming years as state-mandated enrollment caps rise and eventually roll off, further fueling an ongoing battle over school funding in the state.

While state funding for public schools rose about $122 million this year, revenue caps — the limits on how much a school district can raise in state and local taxes — did not increase, meaning most of the funding increase will go to property tax relief. Many districts saw a reduction in state aid because of changes in the way the state pays for the expanding voucher programs.

Payments to the Racine and statewide programs are deducted from the public school districts where those students live — $7,323 per full-time student in kindergarten through eighth grade, and $7,969 for each high schooler. And Milwaukee Public Schools will see a $52.1 million deduction to pay for its share (25.6%) of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.

Mary Young of the public schools advocacy group SOS Wauwatosa called the increase in voucher funding “heartbreaking.”

“After 25 years of study there’s no proof that voucher schools outperform public schools. In many cases, they do worse,” she said. “Our state should support great schools that serve all of our kids.”

A 1% limit on the number of students private schools in the statewide program can take from the public schools mitigated the impact of the program on those districts. But that cap increases by 1% in each of the next nine years before rolling off entirely. Thirty districts across the state hit that 1% threshold this year, including the West Allis-West Milwaukee and Burlington Area schools.

Andrew Chromy, finance director for the West Allis-West Milwaukee schools, said it would cost his district almost $662,000.

“This cost is not something that we can continue to sustain,” he said.

Todd Gray, superintendent of the Waukesha Public Schools District, said it lost about 40 students this year, about 30 fewer than last year. It remains below the 1% threshold.

“I think parents recognize that we provide a much broader and higher quality set of educational opportunities for all students as opposed to what the private voucher schools can offer,” he said.

While enrollment in the Milwaukee program saw a slight uptick in enrollment, there were significant swings for some schools. Holy Redeemer Christian Academy lost 200 students, and Blessed Savior Catholic School lost 92, for example, according to the state. Milwaukee Lutheran High School grew by nearly 100 students because of growth at its feeder schools.

“We’ve intentionally opened up some seats because we want to serve those students,” Principal Adam Kirsch said

Bender, of School Choice Wisconsin, attributed the small growth in the Milwaukee program to a 2014 law that makes it harder for new school startups to win state approval, and the difficulty some schools have had acquiring vacant buildings from Milwaukee Public Schools to expand.

“It’s not because demand is down, but because fewer seats are available,” said Bender, who noted that several schools have waiting lists.

“We have not heard from any schools in Milwaukee that demand is down.”

October 7, 2016

Assembly GOP to Consider Education Savings Accounts Which Will Include Private School Tuition

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 2:32 pm
Assembly GOP to Consider Education Savings Accounts
According to their recently released Forward Agenda, Assembly Republicans want to explore the concept of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) under which taxpayer-funded grants would be given to parents in these accounts to use for education-related expenses, including private school tuition.

According to Molly Beck of the Wisconsin State Journal, similar savings accounts are used in five states — Arizona, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada and Tennessee. Typically these programs have income and other eligibility restrictions for participation. Nevada is the only state that has implemented a program that allows any parent — regardless of income or a child’s disability — to use the accounts provided their child has attended a public school for at least 100 days.

Continue reading Assembly GOP to Consider Education Savings Accounts →

September 26, 2016

Wisc. Congressional Rep. Mark Pocan on School Vouchers

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 1:23 pm

Mark Pocan MJSentinel 9/25/16

Taxpayer-funded voucher schools lack high educational standards for students and teachers, discriminate against certain students, and fail to demonstrate true academic achievement.

When I first came to Congress, I called on the Government Accountability Office to study taxpayer-funded school voucher programs across the country. Wisconsin is home to the nation’s first and largest taxpayer-funded voucher experiment with more than 31,000 students enrolled in the program across the state. The GAO report, which was released last week, confirms many of my deepest concerns.

Taxpayer-funded voucher schools, the report found, lack high educational standards for students and teachers, discriminate against certain students and fail to demonstrate true academic achievement. Republicans in Wisconsin and across the country are breaking our public education system by depleting funds from public schools and rerouting them to the comparatively few students in private schools.

In Wisconsin, about 79% of the new students who received a taxpayer-subsidized voucher in 2013 were already attending private schools. This means taxpayer dollars are not being used to advance public education, but instead are being used to subsidize the education of a small number of students already enrolled in private schools. Students and teachers in public schools are suffering from diminishing funds, and it demonstrates a tactic to further privatize education. According to a report from the Wisconsin State Journal earlier this year, funding for voucher school students across the state was up 14% while funding for our public school students is down by 4%. This marked the first year in which school districts experienced a drop in state aid in order to pay for students living in district boundaries but attending private schools.

Taxpayer-funded voucher and charter schools exhaust needed resources in public education and they also fail to serve all students. Advocates for people with disabilities, including the ACLU and Disability Rights Wisconsin, have raised concerns that Wisconsin’s school choice program, either tacitly or explicitly, allows voucher schools to discriminate against students with disabilities in their admission policies. Many of these programs cannot even meet the basic needs of students with disabilities who are enrolled in their program, leaving students and their families struggling to find appropriate educational services which would have been otherwise guaranteed in a public school.

A number of revelations from the report further call into question the legitimacy of these schools. The GAO’s report found some taxpayer-funded voucher schools do not have a set of minimum criteria for the teachers tasked with educating our kids. It also was disturbing that GAO confirmed that taxpayer-funded voucher schools can mandate religious requirements for students as a part of admissions criteria.

The Milwaukee Sentinel Journal reported earlier this summer that Right Step Inc., a taxpayer-funded voucher school in Milwaukee, was being sued by a group of parents for allegedly abusive practices. Reports indicate that only 7% of students tested at this school met English language arts proficiency and 0% were proficient in math.

In its report, GAO recommends that the federal Department of Education issue guidance on how taxpayer-funded voucher programs affect federal education dollars and public school systems. I agree the Department of Education should provide additional guidance but I also believe taxpayers must demand accountability from taxpayer-funded private voucher schools that do not have the same level of accountability as public schools.

It is unconscionable for taxpayers to continue funding these profit-making schemes disguised as schools. It is time for the Department of Education to protect students and further clarify the steps to ensure oversight. After all, this should be about quality education for our kids.

Mark Pocan is a Democratic congressman from Madison.

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