My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go.
Burke supports private education for the rich, like herself
As the campaign for governor of Wisconsin pushes into the final few weeks, one thing has become very clear. Mary Burke, the Democratic candidate, has no love for parents who do not choose to educate their children in the public schools. She has pledged to rescind two popular state education programs that help families afford an education that works for their children.
Starting this year, a tax deduction for private school tuition that the Republicans passed last year goes into effect. It allows taxpayers to deduct the cost of private school tuition and fees from their taxable income. The maximum deduction for a child in kindergarten through eighth grade is $4,000 while the maximum for a high school student is $10,000. According to the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget office, the deduction is expected to save the average family about $240 for each elementary school student and about $600 for each high school student.
As a personal disclosure, this is a deduction that will directly benefit my family. For religious reasons, we have chosen to send our children to private school and have made the sacrifices necessary to afford it. At the same time, we have dutifully paid our full share of school taxes to fund public education. My family is not unique at all in a community like West Bend with a rich history of Catholic, Lutheran and other private schools. This tax cut helps put a little more money in the pockets of middle class families like mine that can help defray the cost of paying double to educate our kids.
Burke has vowed to repeal this tax deduction, if she is elected governor. She refers to this tax cut as an entitlement program for millionaires who send their kids to private schools that the state can’t afford. I would invite her to visit the middle class homes of the thousands of families who are going to benefit from this modest tax cut. She would find a lot of hard-working families, but very few silver spoons.
Burke has also pounced again on School Choice Wisconsin and reaffirmed her vow to scale back the program. Burke’s opposition to school choice has been well documented and vociferously championed by her campaign since she announced her run for governor.
Burke’s most recent outburst came after the news from the state Department of Public Instruction that Wisconsin taxpayers spent $139 million in the past 10 years to private voucher schools that ended up being barred from the program. She labels this a failure that justifies rolling back school choice. The problem is that Burke fails to look at the whole picture.
During that same 10 years, taxpayers spent more than $100 billion on public education. The $139 million represents about one-tenth of 1 percent of taxpayer spending on K-12 education. And while the state has the ability to cut off funding for failing schools in the school choice program, there is no such accountability in the public schools. The most recent school scorecards from the DPI shows an average report card score of 21.43 percent, or a C+, for Wisconsin’s schools. The Milwaukee School District received an F. The Racine and Beloit school districts both received a D. Yet these failing public schools will not have their funding cut off. Instead, we will hear admonitions from Burke and her union allies to spend more money on these schools because they are failing.
At least with the schools in the choice program, the taxpayers can hold them accountable for failing. Schools that participate in the school choice program must be accredited, provide adequate staff training, submit their budgets to DPI, and give DPI information about their governance and policies. Additionally, Gov. Scott Walker supported legislation that would provide additional scrutiny for all schools that receive taxpayer funding in the form of a performance report card.
Both the new tax deduction for private school tuition and the school choice program are designed to help parents afford an alternative to public education for their kids. Burke’s opposition to both of them is especially disturbing in light of the fact that Burke enjoyed all of the benefits of a private education. She attended the prestigious University Lake School, a private college preparatory high school where tuition runs as high as $17,000 per year. She went on to the private universities of Georgetown and Harvard where costs run into the tens of thousands of dollars per year.
Of course, Burke is a millionaire and could afford to attend the best private school available. Her experience with private schools is not the same as the thousands of middle class and poor families who work overtime, drive old cars, avoid eating out, clip coupons and make whatever sacrifices necessary to avoid what they believe to be the best education possible for their children.
While Burke benefits from her private education, she would cut off funds for those who were not born into wealth to strive for the same opportunities.
(Owen Robinson’s column runs Tuesdays in the Daily News.)