Boots & Sabers

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0800, 04 Feb 23

The Education Reformation sweeps America

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News earlier this week.

Frustrated by chronically poorly performing government schools and a well-heeled government education aristocracy that has an agenda far removed from the priorities of parents, education advocates have ignited an education reformation that is sweeping across America. Once a pioneer in education, Wisconsin looks like it will be watching from the sidelines due to unrequited loyalty to a failing bureaucracy.


The education reformation is manifesting in several forms that are being lumped into the moniker of “universal school choice.” While the mechanisms differ, the concept is the same. Reformers are decoupling education funding from the government education industrial complex and crafting programs that fund education for children irrespective of their race, creed, religion, socioeconomic background, or school of choice. They are programs that fund students and not systems.


Last year, Arizona became the first state to pass universal school choice. West Virginia got close, passing a broad plan that provides educational choice to about 93% of their children. Already this year, Iowa has passed universal school choice. The states of Florida, Texas, Utah, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Indiana are all advancing universal school choice and likely to pass some form by the end of 2023. Several other states are in earlier stages of considering universal school choice. It is conceivable that half of the United States will have universal school choice by 2025. Disastrously for Wisconsin’s children, our state is unlikely to be one of them. Gov. Tony Evers is a lifelong creature of the government education establishment and is vehemently loyal to defending the bureaucracy irrespective of its performance. He has demonstrated his willingness to veto any educational reform that threatens the entrenched power structure and is unlikely to shift his loyalty to children any time soon.


While the Republican majorities in the Legislature are strong, they lack the votes to overcome Evers’ vetoes without some legislative Democrats shifting their support to children. When Governor Tommy Thompson pioneered the original school choice program in Wisconsin, there was bipartisan support, and bipartisan opposition, for it. In today’s political landscape, it is unlikely that enough Democrats are willing to cross the yawning political divide to support kids.


The benefits of school choice have never been clearer. Dr. Will Flanders from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty has released his fifth annual “Apples to Apples” research study which evaluates student outcomes across government, charter, and choice schools while controlling for student demographics. This statistical methodology controls for the fact that government, charter, and choice schools have dissimilar student demographics to provide a clear comparison of performance. Notably, this year’s study uses public data from the 2021-2022 school year report cards from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and is the first post-pandemic look at school performance.


The results are clear. According to the study, students in the Milwaukee Choice program are significantly more proficient in English Language Arts and math than their peers in government schools. Students in Milwaukee charter schools (still government schools that have been somewhat liberated from the crushing educational bureaucracy) also perform better than their government school peers, but only about half as much as their peers in choice schools.


In the statewide choice program, students in choice school also have better outcomes, but the benefit is not quite as pronounced as it is for kids in Milwaukee.


Tellingly, the data also bears out the well-known, if patently ignored, fact that spending has very little to do with performance in government or choice schools. This tells us two things. First, it tells us that once spending has reached a level that provides an adequate level of support for good teachers and a safe physical space, all of the additional spending is just waste. Wisconsin already funds education at a level where each additional dollar spent does not have any positive impact on student outcomes. That being the case, policymakers must ask themselves why they would force taxpayers to pay more when there is no measurable benefit to kids.


The second thing this data tells us is that it is the government school system that is retarding student performance. Choice schools operate with less money and produce better outcomes even after accounting for demographic differences in the student body. If the system is the problem, then why should taxpayers and parents be forced to continue to lavishly fund a failed system when demonstrably better systems exist?


I am well aware that such arguments rooted in data and genuine passion for educating children do not hold sway in the intellectually sclerotic mind of Governor Evers, but his term will eventually end and we cannot afford to lose another generation of kids to a failed government system.


0800, 04 February 2023


  1. Mark Hoefert

    This is a Letter to Editor response that was posted by a teacher in the 2/10/23 edition of the Daily News.

    Level playing field for tax dollars going to private schools

    To the editor: Most people agree that those who spend tax dollars should be accountable to the public. That’s why it is time for private schools who accept vouchers to follow the same rules as public schools and become accountable to taxpayers.

    Since vouchers are tax dollars siphoned from public schools, these dollars should follow the same processes as public school tax dollars. This means that schools using tax dollars will have school board elections open to anyone, allowing the public to oversee where and how they are spending our money. Other conditions placed on public schools should follow suit. It’s time voucher schools adhere to the same start date as public schools, the same requirements for school year minutes, and they must accept and serve all students, to name just a few. No more picking and choosing who is allowed to attend.

    Why should tax dollars used by private schools be exempt from public scrutiny? It is time to level the playing field. If your school wants tax dollars, you get EVERYTHING that comes with the money.

    Our Texas blabbermouth blogger tried to compare voucher schools with public schools, but until they all play by the same rules, they can not be directly compared. One can not just pretend to adjust for different situations and make the comparisons.

  2. dad29

    Since vouchers are tax dollars siphoned from public schools…

    That’s the first lie. The money comes from taxpayers, not ‘schools.’

    On this basis: allowing the public to oversee where and how they are spending our money, the sub-par logician claims that it follows that Choice schools must have elected boards to oversee/report spending. Actually, audited financials will do a better job.

    t’s time voucher schools adhere to the same start date as public schools, the same requirements for school year minutes, and they must accept and serve all students, to name just a few

    Why? The voucher schools are doing far better at “education.” TAXPAYERS don’t care if they meet for ONE day/year, for 2 hours on that day. As usual, the sub-pars confuse process with results.

    The canard about ‘accept all’ has been disproven too many times to repeat. It’s clear that the letter-writer went to Publik Screwels………he/she/it cannot read and comprehend.

  3. Mark Hoefert

    It is time to level the playing field.

    The first step would be to level up the voucher payment standards to what the school districts get. Then we can talk about school board elections open to anyone, allowing the public to oversee where and how they are spending our money.

    The payment standards in 2020-2021 in the choice program were $8300 for K-8; $8946 for 9-12.

    In West Bend School District, the per student expenditures ranged up to $13,291 for in the K-8 population. (lowest was $11,493).

    In the 9-12 population it ranged up to $12,448. (lowest was $11,907).

    I was gobsmacked to see that the Headstart program expenditure was $56,414 per student. From what I can tell, the WBSD provides it as a county wide program. About $32,000 per student is Federal funds. In that year (2020-2021), 39 students were in that program.

    Another program is for incarcerated students. In that year, 5 students were served at a per student expenditure of $63,720.

    All those figures are available at the DPI website in the public portal under “Finance.”

  4. dad29

    Nice point there, Mark. Yet despite the cash shortage the Choice schools squeeze better learnings into them there kiddies.

  5. Mark Hoefert

    Imagine that, DAD29 – one of the concerns is that Choice Vouchers will enrich the for profit education providers. If they can provide education for 70% of what the public schools cost, and make a profit besides, I say more power to them.

  6. jonnyv

    I wouldn’t care if a voucher school was for profit and made money, as long as it is all publicly disclosed and audited. Because much like the college system, once you start giving people tax dollars they will probably start to charge more and more.

    And as I have stated here forever. I have less of an issue with charter/private schools that take my tax money as long as they accept ALL local area students, no questions asked. They do NOT get to be picky. And they HAVE to adhere to all special need’s requirements. So, someone like my special needs daughter has the right to be brought in and taught, even though she will cost well ABOVE the $13K that is currently allocated for her, due to her needing a 1-on-1 aide for most of the day.

    Lets see how profitable they are when they need to have IEP meetings and speech therapists, OT, PT, and vision teachers (all things my daughter uses) requirements and documentation, etc. If you want my tax money, you better be willing to accommodate everyone.

  7. Mark Hoefert

    as long as they accept ALL local area students

    The choice schools indicate how many seats they will have available for Choice students for each grade. They do have to accept all who apply, and any rejections have to be justified.

    Now, the above is if the number of applicants is equal or less than the designated number of seats available.

    If demand exceeds supply, the applications are turned over to the DPI and they conduct a random selection process:

    Under state law, the DPI will conduct the random selection for WPCP schools as follows:
    • If a school has fewer applications than seats available and is not affected by the school district pupil membership
    limit, the DPI will approve all applicants verified as eligible by the school to attend the school.
    • If more students apply than available WPCP seats at the school and/or the school received applications from
    students affected by the school district pupil membership limit, the DPI will randomly fill the available seats giving
    preference in the order of preference below:
    1. students who attended the private school under any Choice program during the previous year;
    2. siblings of students under number 1;
    3. students who attended any other private school under any Choice program during the previous year;
    4. siblings of students under number 3; and,
    5. siblings of students who have been randomly accepted to attend the private school under the Choice
    program who did not attend a private school under any Choice program in the previous year.

  8. Mark Hoefert

    And they HAVE to adhere to all special need’s requirements

    Guess what, under Open Enrollment, school districts do not necessarily have to accept all Special Education either, if they don’t have the capacity to meet the needs of the student.

    Responsibility for Special Education for Open Enrolled Children with Disabilities

    The nonresident school district is the local educational agency (LEA) responsible to provide a free, appropriate public education to children with disabilities attending the school district under open enrollment.

    If a pupil attending a nonresident school district is suspected of having a disability, the referral for a special education evaluation may be made to either the resident or the nonresident school district. The nonresident school district must convene an IEP team. The resident school district must appoint a member to the IEP team. The resident school district representative is required to attend IEP team meetings unless the representative has been excused in writing.

    If an IEP is developed or revised for the pupil, the nonresident school district may consider whether it has the special education and related services for the pupil. If no, the nonresident school district may notify the parent and the resident school district that the pupil must return to the resident school district. If the nonresident school district does have the special education and related services, the nonresident school district must offer a placement to the parent.

    If the nonresident school district notifies the parent that the pupil must return to the resident school district, the parent may file an appeal with the DPI within 30 days of receipt of the notice to return.

  9. dad29

    You and your damned FACTS, Mark…..

  10. Mark Hoefert

    If you want my tax money, you better be willing to accommodate everyone.

    The school districts receive the federal funding to provide special needs services. Individual with Disabilities Education Act. Private schools do not receive any federal IDEA funds directly, and unlike public schools, do not have any taxing authority.

    The school districts can decide how to provide those services – for example, the special needs students can be sent to the public school for the interventions needed. Years ago I knew someone who worked in that program – part of her workday was going into the private schools and providing limited services – as I recall that was feasible when the private schools had numerous special needs students that could be accommodated at the same time, and support was given to the educators.

    IDEA: Equitable Services

    As regulated in 34 CFR §§ 300.130 through 300.144 of IDEA, LEAs have an obligation to provide parentally placed private school students with disabilities an opportunity for equitable participation in the services funded with Federal Part B formula funds (flow-through and preschool) that the LEA has determined, after consultation, to make available to its population of parentally placed private school students with disabilities. The amount of Part B funds available for these services is based on the proportionate share calculation per the IDEA regulations.

    The consultation process is important to ensure the provision of equitable services. How, where, and by whom special education and related services will be provided for parentally placed private school children with disabilities is determined during the consultation process (34 CFR §300.134(d)).

    Equitable services for a parentally placed private school student with a disability must be provided in accordance with a services plan. A services plan must describe the specific special education and related services that will be provided to a parentally placed private school student with disabilities designated to receive services (34 CFR §300.138(b)). The regulations in 34 CFR §300.137(a) explicitly provide that children with disabilities enrolled by their parents in private schools do not have an individual right to receive some or all of the special education and related services they would receive if enrolled in the public schools.

    Do you really want your school’s special needs programs diluted by shifting more IDEA funds to private schools.

    As per the original letter writer’s demand for a “level playing field”, this is how you do it.

  11. Mark Hoefert

    @ Dad29: You and your damned FACTS, Mark…..

    Oh man, I got a lot more points, but I am not wanting to step all over the other comments & topics.

    When I have a chance I will try to post about the financial and audit requirements that a private school complies with when participating in the choice program. It just takes time to dig through the DPI links and the desire to become informed.

    Here are the testing requirements (for those who think there is no accountability or oversight):

    2022-23 School Year

    For the 2022-23 school year, Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), Racine Parental Choice Program (RPCP) and Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) Schools will be required to administer to MPCP, RPCP, and WPCP pupils the following assessments:

    Wisconsin Forward Exam for English Language Arts and Mathematics assessments in the spring of 2023 for grades 3‑8. Learn more about the Wisconsin Forward Exam.

    Wisconsin Forward Exam for Science in the spring of 2023 for grades 4 and 8.

    Wisconsin Forward Exam for Social Studies in the spring of 2023 for grades 4, 8 and 10
    PreACT Secure™ in spring of 2023 for 9th and 10th grade. Learn more about PreACT Secure.

    The ACT® With Writing in the spring of 2023 for 11th grade. Learn more about The ACT.

  12. Mar

    Johnny, from my experience, the public schools probably do a better job working with the severely disabled students. They have more access to professionals such as OT, PT, Speech Therapy etc.
    To expect a private school to provide those services is unreasonable for 1or 2 students.
    Unless, you have a school that only deals with disabled students and that’s probably not so good.

  13. jonnyv

    Mark, I do appreciate all the information you posted. most of which I was aware of. My wife got her masters in SpEd and I have picked up a few things along the way. Even though she is not in the school system any longer she still advocates for the parents and kids with special needs at IEPs regularly (2 last week alone).

    And you brought up the big point that I was getting to, “the nonresident school district may consider whether it has the special education and related services for the pupil. If no, the nonresident school district may notify the parent and the resident school district that the pupil must return to the resident school district.”

    I don’t believe that a “non-resident” has any right to push their way into a school. I am concerned about the RESIDENT schools. Which is why I said LOCAL. If you open a charter school in my neighborhood, and my taxes are going to that school, then my kid has every right to attend regardless of her condition. And that school better be able to accommodate her. We live 2 blocks from Bayside Middle School. They are obligated to take her, and THIS is what I want with charters as well. So what I am saying is that local students should have priority over ALL other students in a tax funded charter/private school.

    If you are going to be competing with local schools and taking ALL the tax dollars OUT of the public school system for a child, then you need to be open to the public. Because the fear is that privitizing schools will leave out those who need it most. It’s easier and cheaper to teach kids whose parents are actively involved. But the kids who are most difficult are the ones to need it the most, and those are the ones that will probably be left out of this privitization model. Who wants to open up a school in the worst part of MIlwaukee and try to make money? Few is my guess but I hope I would be wrong.

    Based on what Owen has said, he would like the ENTIRE school systems to be privatized.

  14. dad29

    If you are going to be competing with local schools and taking ALL the tax dollars OUT of the public school system for a child, then you need to be open to the public.

    Sorry, pal, but the Choice schools do NOT take “all the money” out of the publix. In addition, you have a logic problem in that sentence. See if you can figure it out on your own.

  15. Mark Hoefert

    @ JohnnyV

    The letter to the editor was in reference to private schools that accept vouchers, not charter schools which are essentially public schools. Charter schools do not accept vouchers, as they are tuition free.

    As per the letter to the editor (written by a public school teacher.):

    That’s why it is time for private schools who accept vouchers to follow the same rules as public schools and become accountable to taxpayers.

    Here is how Charter Schools operate in Wisconsin.

    Charter Schools in Wisconsin

    What is a Charter School?

    Charter schools are public, nonsectarian schools created through a business-like contract or “charter” between the charter governance board and the sponsoring school board or other chartering authority. The Wisconsin charter school law gives charter schools freedom from most state rules and regulations in exchange for greater accountability for results. The charter defines the missions and methods of the charter school. The chartering authority holds the school accountable to its charter. The charter school motto is “Autonomy for Accountability.”

    Wisconsin established charter schools to foster an environment for innovation and parental choice. They can exist as living laboratories that influence the larger public school system and introduce an element of competition within that system. Charter schools are created with the best elements of regular public schools in mind. Their leaders may experiment with different instructional theories, site-based management techniques, and other innovations. They learn, sometimes by trial and error, what works best for their student population. Regular schools can observe and learn from what happens in the charter school and make similar improvements. Through this process, the entire public school system is continually challenged to improve itself.

    Wisconsin also wants each charter school to meet the unique needs and interests of its community, parents, and students. This is what makes each charter school unique. While many goals for educating and preparing children are similar, each charter school fulfills a specific local need in education. Some charter schools offer a choice to parents and students in the area of curriculum, teaching methodology, and classroom structure. Others work to keep that small population of at-risk students from falling through the cracks, offering counseling, personal attention, and support. In districts with charter schools, the community, school boards, and parents have identified their public education needs and have established charters that meet them.

  16. Mark Hoefert

    Another example of disinformation contained in the letter to the editor.

    It’s time voucher schools adhere to …………, the same requirements for school year minutes,

    Actually it is expressed as hours now.

    DPI standards for hours for private schools:

    All private schools in Wisconsin are required to provide at least 875 hours each

    Schools that participate in the Choice programs have additional requirements.

    Choice schools must provide at least 1,050 hours of direct pupil instruction to
    grades 1 to 6 each year.

    Choice schools must provide at least 1,137 hours to
    grades 7 to 12 each year.

    DPI standards for public schools:


    Schedule 437 hours of instruction in half-day kindergarten.

    Schedule 1,050 hours of instruction in grades K (full-day) through 6.

    Schedule 1,137 hours of instruction in grades 7 through 12.

    Hours include recess and time for pupils to transfer
    between classes but do not include the lunch periods

    I had considered writing a letter to the Daily News, but there is so much disinformation to address that I don’t think it would even fit in a guest column. And the Daily News paid circulation had dropped to less than 5,000 last year, so there is not really much of a reach. Something like the Washington County Insider social media page would have a wider reach, with 33,000 followers.

  17. MjM

    Here is Milwaukee:

    Three quick and dirty points:

    1: Public Schools in Milwaukee School District have an average math proficiency score of 12% (versus the Wisconsin public school average of 37%), and reading proficiency score of 19% (versus the 39% statewide average).

    2: From 2015 both proficiency scores dropped, but the graduation rate increased.

    3: Spending is $17,750 / student, a 5% increase over 4 years.

  18. dad29

    Yet a Republican Legislature sent MORE MONEY than requested to the public schools last budget. That was because Alberta Darling asked for it.

    She’s special, see??

  19. Tuerqas

    JonnyV, to clarify then, you do specifically support IDEA funds following disabled children to whatever type of school they end up in, correct? That is something that does not happen at this time and is just one more example of ALL funds not following the children out of public schools.

  20. Mark Hoefert

    @ Tuerqas,

    I have tried to limit my comments to the topics in the letter to the editor, so I have not delved too much into the special needs program – did not want to get too deep in the weeds on that one.

    There is a separate program called “SNSP” – Special Needs Scholarship Program” that is run separate from the Choice programs. It appears that there are not fixed payment standards, might be based on actual costs up to a certain percentage. Parents actually can apply to either one or both Choice & SNSP, but can only use one.

    So, it is possible that some IDEA funding is following students – I don’t know for sure.

    In my county, there are 7 private schools that are willing to participate in that program.

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