Boots & Sabers

The blogging will continue until morale improves...

Tag: School Choice

Power v. Education

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

One of the most important issues on the ballot in April and November will be the education of our kids. This is as it should be because education is not only the key to a strong and prosperous nation, but also the single greatest gift than one generation can give to the next. The frustrations of parents have grown into a political movement that is being felt in polling booths all over the nation.


In what will hopefully eventually be seen in time as a positive outcome of the pandemic, parents were forced to take a hard look at what and how their kids were being taught. Many parents did not like what they saw. Instead of the axiomatic “three Rs,” they found the curriculum riddled with the latest leftist fads from climate change to gender ideology to critical race theory. As kids finally returned to school buildings, many parents were frustrated by the destructive, ridiculous, and contradictory covid mitigation policies. Many schools, including the West Bend School District, have seen an increase in violence and classroom disruptions as kids damaged by the isolation enforced during the pandemic return to complicated social situations. Through all of this, the anger and frustration of parents has been increasing because government schools have turned a deaf ear to their concerns. As parents have tried to use the political process to express their dissatisfaction and frustrations with school boards and government school officials, they have been increasingly rebuffed and ignored.


Democrat Representative Lee Snodgrass let the cat out of the bag by tweeting what many government school officials think when she wrote, “If parents want to “have a say” in their child’s education, they should home school or pay for private school tuition out of their family budget.” In other words, parents should just pay their taxes and shut up. Snodgrass’ tweet gave voice to the arrogant condescension that parents are feeling from too many government school officials.


Parents have an expectation and a right that their kids are educated in accordance with their values and priorities. When that is not happening, they get justifiably angry. The root of the problem is that government schools are not capable of accommodating the spectrum of values present in the out modern society. They are not designed that way. They are designed to regress to the mean.


Government schools are political organizations that are governed by people who are chosen through the electoral process. By design, the government schools represent the values of the majority of the voters. When there are broad shared values that are held by the vast majority of the community, this system works fine. But when there are a wide variety of values to be represented, an elected government can only really represent some assemblage that adds up to 51% of the electorate. This leaves a significant portion of the community marginalized, frustrated, and angry. We see this reflected in all of our elected governments right now from Washington to school boards.


While we do not have a fix for this political frustration for state or national government, we do have a fix with schools. School Choice is the answer for how we can focus on education while still honoring the broad array of values that parents want to be reinforced with their children in school.


School Choice is not a conservative issue. It used to be considered a liberal issue. Many of the early advocates for School Choice were liberals who were fighting to give families who were not being represented in the power structure a chance to choose a school that will serve them better. These marginalized subsets of the larger community were unable to exert enough political power to change the government schools. School Choice prevented their children from being pawns in a political power struggle.


That is what the School Choice debate is really about: power and entrenched power structures. The government school establishment, from the local school districts to the Department of Public Instruction to the teachers’ unions, is powerful. School Choice is a challenge to that power because it transfers power to parents. As Snodgrass so eloquently explained, parents who pay get a say. School Choice gives all parents the means to have a real say in how schools are run and what is taught.


School Choice changes the dynamic by forcing schools — government and private — to be responsive to the families they serve. The discussion can be about education instead of a struggle for power. If one family is unhappy about a school teaching CRT or having to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, they can have the means to choose a different school that more closely matches their priorities and values. One should not have to defeat their neighbors in a political battle for their school to educate their children in a way that supports their values.

School Choice Expands

There’s one grey man standing in the way of providing educational choice to children in Wisconsin. One. Grey. Man.

Last year alone, seven states established new school choice programs, and 15 expanded their existing programs, according to the advocacy group EdChoice. Several more states may soon follow. School choice takes a variety of forms, but it broadly refers to any system that allows parents to take tax dollars designated for the public education of their child and spend the funds on some other form of schooling.


The most well-known form of school choice is vouchers, which are direct payments sent to families to cover tuition at a private school or other nonpublic alternative. Other systems provide the money to parents through tax credits or deposits in what are known as Education Savings Accounts. There were roughly 600,000 students in the U.S. taking part in school choice programs in the 2020-21 school year, according to EdChoice. One recent analysis found that new laws passed last year could mean an additional 1.6 million students participating in school choice nationwide. Even with its remarkable expansion, school choice still represents a small sliver of the country’s K-12 education system — which includes an estimated 50 million students attending public schools.


While both Democrats and Republicans have promoted alternatives to traditional public schooling, school choice has become increasingly partisan in recent years. Former President Donald Trump called school choice “the civil rights statement of the year,” and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, was a strong proponent. Last year’s expansion of school choice happened almost exclusively in Republican-controlled areas of the country.

Republicans launch ambitious educational reform agenda

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

Wisconsin’s Republicans, led by Sen. Alberta Darling, will be introducing a series of education reform bills that will put more power in the hands of parents and families. While the bills have no chance of being signed into law by union-owned Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, they give a glimpse of the good things that could happen if the voters fire Evers in November.


The pandemic, and the government’s despicable reaction to it, has surfaced many latent faults in our society and in our government institutions. First and foremost is that we have learned that many of our government schools have not been focused on education for some time. Their priorities are employee goldbricking, leftist ideological training, and celebrating average performance at the expense of the exceptional — in that order. We have seen school officials shift from their pre-pandemic stance of pretending to listen to parents to outright disdain that parents would dare to question school officials’ actions.


The legislative Republicans will seek to change the power dynamic in our government schools by putting more power into the hands of parents and taxpayers at the expense of education bureaucrats. We will see more details of the education reform bills when they are introduced, but we can see the outlines. The most important reform to be proposed is to expand school choice statewide and remove the income requirements. Under Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, Wisconsin was a pioneer in school choice, and it has been a godsend for thousands of students to escape failing schools and get the education that they deserve. The concept is simple. Wisconsin’s taxpayers are joyfully obligated to pay for the education of all of Wisconsin’s kids, but parents are in the best position to choose the best school for their child, whether that school is run by the government or a private institution. Currently, there are three versions of school choice in Wisconsin, but all of them are restricted to low-income families and other limitations. The Republicans would seek to remove those limitations and make school choice available to every Wisconsin child. Doing so would reaffirm that Wisconsin is committed to education and not just to government institutions. The reform would make government schools more accountable and, more importantly, ensure that every family has the means to provide the education that is best for their child.


While the expansion of school choice is the most important reform proposal, the most contentious will likely be the proposal to break up Milwaukee Public Schools into several smaller districts. MPS is a failed school district that has resisted all attempts to improve it. Part of the issue is its sheer size. It has become a bureaucratic behemoth more concerned for its internal power structure than with the kids in far-flung neighborhoods. Resources are focused on plugging the holes of the sinking ship at the expense of raising the sails.


By breaking MPS into smaller districts, each district would have its own school board to be accountable to the people. Each smaller district would have its own budget so that resources could not be diverted away from their neighborhoods to buttress another school that is so far away that it might as well be in Hudson. The plan would return more control and accountability to local families. Small government is better government, and it is even more true with government schools.


Another proposed reform will be to establish a Parental Bill of Rights. Several states have enacted some version of a Parental Bill of Rights as a response to government school officials who continue to condescend to parents. A Parental Bill of Rights simply affirms some core rights that government school officials must respect or face legal consequences. Those rights include a parents’ right to guide their child’s health care, religious, and moral upbringing. These things used to be understood as part of our social construct, but aggressive leftist infiltration of our government schools make it necessary to codify them into law.


There are many additional reforms related to transparency and accountability, but all of them are designed to refocus our education system on what it is supposed to be about – educating children. Taxpayers spend billions of dollars every year on education with the simple expectation that everyone is focused on putting every dollar toward educating children. It is long past time for government to meet that expectation.

Republicans launch ambitious educational reform agenda

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

Wisconsin’s Republicans, led by Sen. Alberta Darling, will be introducing a series of education reform bills that will put more power in the hands of parents and families. While the bills have no chance of being signed into law by union-owned Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, they give a glimpse of the good things that could happen if the voters fire Evers in November.


The pandemic, and the government’s despicable reaction to it, has surfaced many latent faults in our society and in our government institutions. First and foremost is that we have learned that many of our government schools have not been focused on education for some time. Their priorities are employee goldbricking, leftist ideological training, and celebrating average performance at the expense of the exceptional — in that order. We have seen school officials shift from their pre-pandemic stance of pretending to listen to parents to outright disdain that parents would dare to question school officials’ actions.


The legislative Republicans will seek to change the power dynamic in our government schools by putting more power into the hands of parents and taxpayers at the expense of education bureaucrats. We will see more details of the education reform bills when they are introduced, but we can see the outlines. The most important reform to be proposed is to expand school choice statewide and remove the income requirements.

State Senator Introduces Bill to Allow More Choice

Senator Kapenga is trying to allow more people to choose schools that will actually provide an education.

LRB-6422 is being introduced to provide parents with additional flexibility to address the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impact it will have on students and families for the 2020-2021 school year. Under current law, students may open enroll to another district only if they apply during the spring prior to a fall semester. This bill allows parents to use the alternative open enrollment process to enroll their child in a different district if they believe their home district’s chosen instructional model is not in their child’s best interest.

It also gives parents the tools to make this decision without the threat of a veto from their home district. Finally, the bill removes the enrollment cap that currently limits how many students from a specific district can participate in the state choice programs and allows choice applications to be processed on a rolling basis throughout this coming school year.

Defund government schools

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

The problem we have in America is not in the collective support for education. We have proven time and time again that we, as a people, will dig deep into our pockets to support education. The problem we have is that we have put our trust in too many government schools that routinely fail in their duty to provide the education for which we are paying.

For decades, we have seen educational outcomes remain static or decline as the taxpayers continue to shovel more and more cash into the flames. We are spending more than ever on government schools and our kids are getting a worse education than their parents or their grandparents. Now as COVID has laid bare the priorities of the people who lead our government school systems, we see why. Providing in-person classroom teaching is proven to be the most effective method for educating most kids, but when push comes to shove, educating kids is less of a priority than servicing the political clout of government employees. 


One cannot claim to support education and then continue to support government schools that are refusing to provide a quality education. We must put our money where our hearts and mouths are and spend our money on people and schools that are striving to educate kids despite the obstacles. We should lavishly fund true educators and cut off those who would continue to collect a paycheck while cowering in their virtual basement.

Wisconsin was an innovator in creating school choice for families to choose better schools for their kids even when their economic circumstances would not allow it. School choice was a conscious acknowledgment that wealthier families have always had the choice to send their kids to better schools and the taxpayers should enable the same choice for all families. The politicians have shackled Wisconsin’s three school choice programs with income restrictions, onerous deadlines, and enrollment caps. The decision by some government school districts to intentionally provide a substandard education provides ample justification to unshackle our school choice programs and allow every family to make the choices that wealthier families are already making.

If we truly believe in the power and importance of education, then we must stop supporting government institutions that have long since demonstrated that they are incapable, and in recent revelations, unwilling to provide the education that our kids deserve. We must redirect our hard-earned and painfully taxed dollars to people and institutions who value education for kids as much as their parents do.

Billions for education. Not one cent for tribute.

Choice Works

The studies keep stacking up.

This study is a follow-on to the School Choice Demonstration Project that was commissioned by the state of Wisconsin in the mid 2000s. Researchers from the University of Arkansas tracked the progress of students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) along with a matched sample of students in traditional public schools. The matching method used here allows for the best measure of the true effect of an intervention outside of lotteries, which didn’t occur in Milwaukee.

There are two sets of results in the study, one for students that were in 9thgrade at baseline and one for students who were in 3rd through 8thgrade. Among 9th graders, effects were found on enrollment but not on graduation. Among 3rd through 8th graders, the study also found an effect on enrollment. They find that 50 percent of MPCP students in this group enrolled in college compared to 45 percent of Milwaukee Public Schools students. This difference was statistically significant.

The most compelling finding, however, is when the researchers examined college graduation. By April of 2019 when the data was collected, 11 percent of MPCP students in their sample had graduated from a four-year college, compared with 8 percent of students in the public school control group. In other words, MPCP students were 38 percent more likely to graduate from four-year colleges than their public school peers.

Last year’s version of this study found that students in the MPCP were more likely to enroll in college, but not to graduate. It appears that an additional year of data has had a dramatic effect on the findings.

There are a lot of factors that go into something like this – not least of which is that, by and large, the parents who use choice care about their kids’ education and are likely more involved. Parental involvement and support for education in the home are critical factors for student success.

But the other huge factor is the quality and nature of the education being provided. Not all schools provide a good education and not all education styles work for every student. Giving parents the ability to choose a god school that delivers education in a way that works for their kids is another critical factor for student success.

Fitzgerald Responds to Evers’ Proposed Assault on School Choice

Yup. Evers’ budget is shaping up to be a liberal manifesto with little room for compromise.

[Madison, WI] — Following Governor Evers’ announcement that he plans to freeze voucher school enrollment for low-income students, Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald released the following statement:

“Governor Evers’ plans would do immense harm to the voucher program and create uncertainty for schools, students, and their families. The program has expanded educational opportunities throughout Wisconsin and helped children escape failing schools.

“For nearly ten years Governor Evers helped to implement the choice program as the head of the Department of Public Instruction. He has turned his back on the very families the policies he enacted sought to help. Why are some of the first targets of his budget minority families, low-income students, and parochial schools from around the state?

“Wisconsinites should have more choices when it comes to the education of their children, not fewer. Budget leaks of far-left proposals like these only make bipartisan compromise more difficult. Republicans in the Legislature have spent years helping build the voucher program. We will not support a budget that includes this proposal.”

Wisconsin Knows How to Provide Great Education

Good stuff.

Dive Deeper: Wisconsin has a rich history of providing parents and families with education options that best serve their children.

  • Wisconsin is home to the nation’s oldest private voucher program in the country. The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), created with bipartisan support in 1990, now provides education options to 28,000 students in Wisconsin’s largest city.
  • 60,000 students use Wisconsin’s open enrollment program, a form of school choice where students can enroll in another public school district.
  • 42,000 students attend public charter schools – which happen to be some of the highest performing schools in the state.
  • 10,000 students attend private schools in the Racine Parental Choice Program (3,000) and the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (7,000), new and growing voucher programs.
  • 650 Wisconsin students use the Special Needs Scholarship Program, a program designed to provide low-income students with special needs with the option to attend a private school.

The Facts: School choice in Wisconsin has been the subject of a number of rigorous academic studies and research. Some important findings include:

Government Schools Use Kids for Political Activism

Today we are going to see our government schools encourage and facilitate the use of our children to agitate in support of a political issue. It is an abhorrent abuse of power.

Students across the country and around the world are expected to take part in a National School Walkout today in a call on Congress to pass tighter gun control laws.

The ENOUGH National School Walkout will be held this morning — exactly one month after the mass shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people and sent shock waves across the nation.

Freedom of Choice

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. I had actually planned to write this column before I noticed that it’s School Choice Week. Serendipitous, don’t you think? Here you go:

When children and philosophers think about government, they will often romanticize the philosopher king or benevolent dictator as the ideal form of government. The idea of a wise, thoughtful, kind, and generous ruler making decisions to correct the wickedness of ignorant people for the benefit of the entire society is a tempting and alluring story. But history has shown us that such fantasies are best left on the pages of storybooks and treatises. They have little relevance in the actual history of mankind.

When our founders began on their journey of self-governance, it was largely a reaction to the tyranny of monarchical rule. As the spark of the Reformation helped ignite the flames of the Enlightenment, people began to consider the notion that they were not only capable, but entitled, to rule themselves. Such thoughts traveled to America and made the yoke of a distant monarchy weigh heavy. Finally, our founders cast off that yoke and began the great American experiment of self-governance, which continues to this day.

Our founders were students of history and recognized that one of the critical footings of successful self-governance is education. Indeed, only an educated people governing themselves could can off the abuses of tyranny so often inflicted by the cruel on the ignorant. As Thomas Jefferson wrote to William Jarvis in 1820, “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

In order to ensure that the people were educated enough to govern themselves, the founders viewed it as a duty of government to provide the people an education. Not deemed a responsibility of the federal government, our founders worked hard to enshrine the responsibility to provide an education into the state constitutions and local charters. It is an important ethos that has helped carry our nation into its third century of self-rule.

As a people, we have decided that it is critical for our republic to not only provide, but also to require that every citizen be educated. While rooted in the preservation of our liberty, compulsory universal education also has significant secondary consequences like raising the standard of living, enabling innovation and reducing poverty.

Whereas we all agree that it is in the best interests of our liberty and our general society to require and provide for universal education through our governments, there is less agreement about how that education should be delivered. At the root of the issue is that while we all generally agree that we should use our collective tax dollars to fund education, there is no rational basis for the government to own the means of delivering that education.

Education is one of the few areas of civil society where we insist that the government both fund and own the means of production for a public good. For example, in transportation, the government pays for infrastructure, but utilizes mostly private enterprises to complete the work. When it comes to welfare, we all generally agree that the government should pay for the indigent, but there are not government-owned grocery stores. In fact, there has been strong push back to President Donald Trump’s idea to provide packages of government groceries to welfare recipients instead of letting them choose their own groceries.

In the 21st century, the idea that the only way to provide a good education is for the government to own, manage and run the schools is as antiquated as the boys-only one-room school house. As our society speeds up, the rigidity and sluggishness of the public schools have struggled to keep pace. That fact, coupled with the frustration from some that some public schools have become centers of Neo-Marxist indoctrination instead of education, is part of what has led to a majority of states offering some form of school choice in the form of vouchers, education savings accounts and/or tax exemptions for private schools.

The heart of the school choice movement is the recognition that every child is precious and unique. Each child deserves the educational environment in which they can best thrive, and the child’s parents — not politicians — are the most informed, most interested and most invested in making decisions about their child’s education. For some parents, that choice may be a government-run school. For some it might be a religious school. For some it might be an online or private school. For some it might be homeschooling or an immersion school.

The point is that it is the parents who should decide and our societal obligation and commitment is to ensure that money, within reason, is not the sole determinant of educational choice. The rich already have all of these choices. School choice levels the field by ensuring that people of all economic means also have choices.

If an educated people is a free people, then we must free our education system to reach as many children as possible. Our founders were willing to tear down old societal structures to build a better future. Are we willing to do the same?

Florida to Consider Vouchers for Victims of Bullying

This just seems like a bad idea.

A proposal being weighed in the Florida legislature would allow children who have been bullied to receive a state-funded voucher to attend private school.

The grants — called the “Hope Scholarships” — would allow children who say they have been bullied to be eligible for a voucher of $6,800 a year to go to private school, NBC News reported.

The scholarships would not be based on income.

Students whose parents tell administrators their children have been bullied or harassed would be eligible for the program.

The funding would come from car buyers who could volunteer $105 from their registration fee toward the program, according to NBC News.

First, the funding mechanism is all screwed up. There’s no way that it’s reliable or adjustable to demand.

Second, the requirements are wide open for fraud. Anyone can claim they were “bullied or harassed” and whose to say that they weren’t? In an age when we are defining an off color comment as “harassment,” virtually anyone could make a valid claim for the voucher.

I’ve been a big supporter of vouchers for a long time. But if it makes sense for the public to fund education for children irrespective of the delivery apparatus, then it makes sense. What doesn’t make sense if for the government to keep erecting weird hurdles that segregate the kids’ eligibility based on arbitrary factors.

Walker Signs School Choice Bill

With all of the heat and controversy constantly raging, it is remarkable that this bipartisan bill was passed and signed with almost no fanfare.

MOUNT PLEASANT, WI — Gov. Scott Walker has signed a new voucher school bill into law Wednesday that requires private schools participating in a school choice program to conduct background checks of its employees.

The bill passed the Senate with a vote of 28-5 and was concurred by the Assembly with a vote of 67-30.

The new law also eliminates certain academic threshholds that choice schools must currently meet, including at least one of the following:

1) At least 70 percent of the pupils in the program advance one grade level each year.

2)) The private school’s average attendance rate for the pupils in the program is at least 90 percent

3) At least 80 percent of the pupils in the program demonstrate significant academic

4) At least 70 percent of the families of pupils in the program meet parent involvement criteria established by the private school.

School Vouchers Face Conservative Opposition in Texas

Here’s an interesting ideological and cultural split.

Texas is one of just seven states with Republican-controlled Legislatures and governorships that have stonewalled private school choice — and many others are small and rural, such as North Dakota and Wyoming.

Leaders of the school choice movement are stumped by the rebuff since Texas usually leads the nation in driving the conservative agenda. They have vowed to spend money and recruit primary challengers to defeat anti-school choice legislators.

“Texas is hailed to be this conservative, deep red state but you look across the country where we have school choice programs and it’s places like Indiana and Ohio and Wisconsin,” said Randan Steinhauser, co-founder of the pro-school choice group Texans for Education Opportunity. “It’s really frustrating.”

Steinhauser worked in Washington for Betsy DeVos, the outspoken school choice advocate who is now Trump’s education secretary. She thought she could advance the cause after returning to her native state four years ago: “I was kind of naive thinking, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll get it done, no problem,'” Steinhauser said. “I was shocked.”

The issue lays bare the ideological split between a high-profile tier of conservative activists and more traditional Republicans seeking to safeguard heartland values.

Republicans from rural districts are worried about the dwindling of many small towns, and fearful of undermining public schools that are top employers and the social and cultural lifeblood of community life. On school choice votes, they join forces with Democrats supporting public teachers unions.

Another strong bastion against school vouchers in Texas is the large homeschooling community. Many of them are opposed to vouchers for fear of government imposing onerous requirements on homeschooling.

Larson Opposes School Choice

Newly-elected West Bend School Board member, who ran as a conservative, is anti-choice.

“I am concerned that it is going to reduce the amount of programs and quality of the public schools,” said Tiffany Larson, West Bend School Board member. “I want public tax dollars used for public schools,” she said.

This is noteworthy because I don’t believe it is something she revealed when running for office. School Choice was addressed at more than one candidate forum. She did not indicate her opposition at the one I attended and I can’t find any indication that she did in the reports of the others. And when I interviewed her, I specifically asked her about School Choice. She said that School Choice worked for Milwaukee and didn’t express any opposition to it for West Bend.

Yet, here she is with a pretty standard liberal stance against School Choice.

On another note, the news story itself is quite skewed. It’s the story of a private grade school in Jackson joining the Wisconsin School Choice Program. In the article, the reporter manages to find three people to quote who oppose school choice (Larson, Tanya Lohr, and Paul Nelson), but not a single person who supports School Choice. That’s interesting in a community that has shown significant support for School Choice for years.


Scaled Back Choice Funding Bill Passes Assembly

Can an opponent of this explain why this is unfair?

The 2015-17 state budget allowed school districts to increase revenues — state aid and property taxes — for students attending private voucher schools, typically about $10,000 per pupil. The districts also lose state aid based on the amount claimed for a voucher, which is capped at about $7,300 for K-8 and $8,000 for high school.


The scaled-back version of the bill that passed Thursday would allow school districts to retain as much funding in state aid and property tax levy authority per pupil as the amount of each student’s private school voucher.

Under current law, a school district can levy a tax at their spending level for a kid that they don’t have to educate. Under the new bill, a school district can still levy slightly less tax for a kid they don’t have to educate. Either way they are collecting taxes (revenue) without needing to spend anything (cost). It seems that the only people for whom either arrangement is unfair are the taxpayers.


Proposed Change to Voucher Funding

This is a good idea, but take a closer look at the opposition to see why.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is proposing to reduce the amount of money public school districts can raise to offset the loss of state aid for private school vouchers.

The proposal could result in a $22 million loss for public schools under an early estimate, according to the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.


When students enroll in another school district through open enrollment, most of the state’s funding for that student goes with the student to their new school district. That student’s home district is still able to count that student in their revenue limit calculation, however, allowing the home district to keep some state aid.

Beyer said the new proposal limits school districts’ “ability to raise property taxes for a student they are not actually educating, who would be in the choice program.”

Wisconsin Association of School Boards lobbyist Dan Rossmiller said public school districts’ revenue would be reduced by about $4,000 per student each year — resulting in multi-million dollar revenue losses for school districts with higher numbers of voucher students living in the district.

An analysis showed school districts’ revenue limit authority would be reduced by $22 million, affecting 142 school districts, according to a WASB memo.

In other words, as it stands now, school districts are collecting about $4,000 per voucher students who they don’t educate. In other words, that’s $4,000 per kid that the district gets and extends zero cost to educate those kids. It’s a pure “profit” stream (yes, it’s not really profit in a public school district, but it’s revenue collected without any cost) that these districts use to subsidize other spending.

In an ideal world, we would have a pure voucher system where every kid gets a voucher to spend at the qualified school of their choice. After all, the money is supposed to be for educating kids, so shouldn’t it go to whoever is providing that education? This proposal is nowhere near that, but it’s getting closer to that ideal.

Feds Can’t Find Any Wrongdoing with Milwaukee School Choice

And so they finally end their investigation.

The U.S. Department of Justice has closed a long-running investigation into whether the Milwaukee private school voucher program discriminates against students with disabilities, with no apparent findings of major wrongdoing.

In a quiet conclusion to a probe that’s drawn national attention, the Justice Department sent a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction on Dec. 23, saying that no further action is warranted beyond the materials it reviewed, meetings it conducted and changes it requested the DPI make to its administration of the Milwaukee voucher program two years ago — directives the DPI largely could not act upon under state law.

WPCP sees massive expansion

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here it is:

The school enrollment numbers are in for September and the statewide school choice program is continuing to see strong demand all over the state wherever it is available to parents and kids. It is a remarkable story of success for a program that is so short-lived.

The Wisconsin Parental Choice Program was started for the 2013-14 school year as a small pilot program. The WPCP is one of the three school choice programs in Wisconsin. The other two school choice programs are for Milwaukee and Racine, but the WPCP applies to all citizens outside of those two cities.

Only 511 kids participated in the WPCP in the first year. Enrollment almost doubled in the 2014-15 school year, to 1,008 kids. And this year, thanks to a gradual lifting of restrictions by the Legislature, enrollment in the WPCP has more than doubled again to 2,513 kids. Similarly, the number of schools participating has increased to a total of 82 schools statewide, including the first high school in Washington County, Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School. Granted, these numbers are a tiny fraction of the 994,536 students in K-12 in Wisconsin, but the trajectory of growth is positive.

Predictably, anti-choice advocates and defenders of the status quo are decrying the fact that some of the funding for the WPCP is coming at the expense of the public schools. Their criticisms are rooted, unfortunately, in the interests of the public school infrastructure and not in that of the children those schools are meant to serve.

The Legislature instituted a way of funding the WPCP with the budget earlier this year. It is a simple funding formula that is designed to be flexible with growth and is rooted in the core principle of money meant to educate a child should follow the child. For every child who gets a voucher through the WPCP, the voucher is funded with state aid that would have otherwise gone to the public school for the purpose of educating the child. For example, if a child in West Bend attends a private school with a WPCP voucher, the amount of state aid the West Bend School District would have received for the child is redirected to the voucher instead of the school district.

Some claim that such a redirection of funds from the school districts constitutes a “cost.” They claim the public school districts are paying for the voucher program, and even using this argument as a justification to raise local property taxes to “offset” the “cost.”

Their arguments are a sham. While the school district does not receive the state aid for the child receiving a voucher, the school district is also not responsible to educate the child. The school district incurs no cost to educate the child, so why should they receive any state aid for that purpose? One can argue whether or not the state taxpayers should pay for lower income kids to attend private schools, but there is no valid argument for state taxpayers to pay public school districts to educate students who do not attend their schools.

It is also worth noting that the state’s open enrollment system, in which students in one district can attend a different district, is funded through a similar mechanism. Open enrollment has been the law in Wisconsin for decades, and yet public school advocates have not complained about it. They only get exercised about the shifting of state aid when that money goes to a private school instead of another public school.

There is a cost to expanding the WPCP, but it is a cost to state taxpayers — not local school districts. To date, roughly 76 percent of kids participating in the WPCP were already attending a private school. Before the WPCP, these families were footing the entire bill, not state taxpayers. With a WPCP voucher, the state taxpayers are now paying for an education that was previously being paid for by only the parents. Even though this is a small additional cost to taxpayers (currently less than 0.01 percent of total spending on K-12 education), the increasing competition in education delivery and varied education opportunities will more than offset the cost while providing better outcomes for Wisconsin’s children.

From health care to groceries to internet providers to banks, having choices has always benefited individuals and society as a whole. Having choices in our education providers will have the same positive impact. We are in the beginning stages of seeing something great for Wisconsin and our children with the budding WPCP.



Pin It on Pinterest