Op Ed

Voucher Programs Cutting Into Public School Funding

State Sen. Erpenbach and Rep. Pope introduce legislation requiring a referendum before state aid to school districts can be cut.

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MPS' Fernwood Montessori School. Photo courtesy of MPS.

MPS’ Fernwood Montessori School. Photo courtesy of MPS.

It hasn’t been long since many Wisconsinites have had to vote on referendums to keep their public school doors open, and now in this new year, our schools continue to be underfunded. This spring 50 school districts will go to referendum, with 29 seeking $915 million in operating costs alone.

During last year’s budget deliberations, Governor Tony Evers put forth a proposal that would have made significant investments in our public schools. Many of his ideas stemmed from the Republican controlled Blue Ribbon Commission on K-12 education. Unfortunately, the task force recommendations could not make it past the Republicans on the Joint Committee on Finance, including $10.1 million from sparsity aid for rural districts compared to the Governor’s plan. Senate District 27 lost $600,000 alone due to Republican rejections of their own recommendations, with 82 other districts statewide also losing funds.

Fast forward to this year, and instead of doing their jobs and convening for a special session to address the farm crisis, Republicans chose to hold a political rally to promote voucher schools. Unfortunately, while taxpayers will be voting on referendums this April, voucher school operators are able to take $145.5 million from property taxpayers with zero transparency, oversight or ability to vote “no.”

On January 8, 2020, Senator Janet Bewley (D-Mason), Representative David Considine (D-Baraboo), and both of us introduced Senate Bill 661 (SB 661), to prohibit the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) from making reductions in the amount of state aid that is paid to school districts, unless the voters agree to the reductions by a referendum vote. Under current law, school choice programs are able to drain funds away from public schools, and SB 661 would give power back to Wisconsinites to decide how they want their tax dollars spent.

A recent memo released by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows that vouchers caused $145 million in aid reduction to public schools. That amount is up 30% from last year, and this problem is only going to grow if it is not addressed. The trend in tax dollars going away from public schools towards unreliable voucher programs shows the decline to our education system at the expense of our taxpayers. Wisconsinites should have a choice in whether or not they want to fund two separate education programs, and that is why we introduced the bill to bring accountability back into the fold.

For-profit education is chipping away at our democracy with misinformation and misleading standards for education, with the approval of our current presidential administration. Wisconsin Democrats believe in doing what is best for our children, and unfortunately, forcing taxpayers to fund competing education systems will only hinder their future.

When Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos came to Wisconsin to join our Republican colleagues and voucher school lobbyists to tout the school choice program, it only made it clearer than ever that special interest groups should not be able to buy our state. Wisconsinites deserve to know the truth when it comes to voucher programs, and that is why every Senator and Representative should join us in passing commonsense legislation to decide how their money is being spent. School Choice is detrimental to our public schools, and our children deserve better.

Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, is a member of the Wisconsin state Senate and Rep. Sondy Pope, D-Mt. Horeb, is a member of the Wisconsin state Assembly.

Related Legislation: Senate Bill 661

Categories: Education, Politics

6 thoughts on “Op Ed: Voucher Programs Cutting Into Public School Funding”

  1. sbaldwin001 says:

    The authors use words such as “unreliable” and “unaccountable” to describe voucher schools, and yet in Milwaukee these schools are outperforming MPS non-charter schools on criteria defined by the state of Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction. (“Gap Grows Between MPS and Charter, Choice” by Bruce Thompson, Urban Milwaukee news website, November 28, 2018.)

    Voucher schools in Milwaukee may not be accountable to the Milwaukee Board of School Directors, but they are accountable to parents and to the criteria defined by our state. It is lamentable, but in this city, school vouchers are a needed alternative.

  2. Ryan Cotic says:

    Shame to see two white people fron the suburbs trying to take away school choice from people of color in the city of milwaukee… sad morals of these people

  3. mkeumkenews09 says:

    1) MPS Charter schools outperform MPS schools by only a small amount. They get to exclude who they don’t want, primarily children with special needs or disabilities or handicaps. That is the primary way they are able to perform a little bit better.
    2) The state takes tax dollars from the public schools and gives it to the charter schools. Those are Wisconsin citizens’ tax dollars. The MPS Charter schools very well should be accountable to the Milwaukee Board of School Directors for that reason.
    3) This proposed legislation would give citizens some say of where and how their tax dollars are spent. That is a good plan.
    4) How many MPS Charter schools have taken a final payment, closed their doors, leaving MPS to figure out how to take those kids back in, without the dollars to handle the influx of these students, part way through the year? The answer is too many.

  4. Thomas Martinsen says:

    Ryan Cotic presents a false choice in post # 2. This is not a white people vs black people issue. It is a public vs private education issue: where public schools are accountable and private schools are not.

  5. sbaldwin001 says:

    Here is my reply to Mkeumkenews09 point-by-point:

    1. As granter of the charter, I would be curious to know if MPS had a say in who the charter schools would accept. Also, according to the article “Gap Grows Between MPS and Charter, Choice” (by Bruce Thompson, Urban Milwaukee, November 28, 2018), there is a considerable difference between non-charter MPS schools and Milwaukee charter schools. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s overall accountability scores for non-charter MPS schools was 59.5 while the score for Milwaukee charter schools was 71.3. (The MPS charter schools were not separated.)

    2 & 3. Yes, the state and other levels of government take tax dollars and allocate them. This is done for many things such as roads, parks, social services, etc… Wisconsin citizens are represented by their elected officials.

    4. As granter of the charter, I would be curious to know if MPS had some role in vetting these failing schools.

    It all boils down to this: If MPS is having internal problems, making bad decisions or simply performing poorly, why should voters be concerned that parents take their money elsewhere until the issues are addressed?

    I am not an education expert, and I would welcome their unbiased answers to the questions I pose. I realize their is probably a middle ground here.

  6. Mingus says:

    If parents have concern about their local schools, they can just do what has been done for years and elect new school board members. The Republicans have created a dark state of Republican Political Operatives and assorted institutions who are given with almost no accountability money confiscated from local school funds for schools for religious indoctrination. Using the logic of school choice advocates, I should be able to get a voucher for local police services if I am not satisfied with the department in the community where I live. I am really surprised that the Milwaukee Catholic Archdiocese lets the Republican party make policy and regulations about their parish schools.

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