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.
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.
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.
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.”
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:
Higher proficiency in reading and math for students in Choice and Charter schools.
$500 million in economic benefits resulting from the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program.
Students attending choice schools are less likely to commit crimes.
School choice results in more money per student for public schools.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Several Anti-Choice candidates in Wisconsin lost their elections last week. Hat tip MacIver.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Great news for parents and kids who are able to find an education that works for them.
The number of students attending private schools on state-funded vouchers through the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program more than doubled to 2,514 this year, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction said Tuesday.
Participation in a separate Racine voucher program rose about 23% to 2,127 students.
The 142 districts affected by the statewide program stand to lose $11.9 million in state aid this year, according to the department. They will be able to levy an additional $15.8 million in local property taxes, likely pushing up tax bills in some communities.
Voucher advocates welcomed the numbers, saying they reflect a growing parental interest in having more education options for their children. Opponents criticized the program, saying it is strangling public schools.
I will remind y’all again that the public schools are “losing” the state aid for the kids, but they are also losing any responsibility or expense to educate that kid. Meanwhile, they continue to collect the local tax levy for that kid. It is a net gain for public schools.
Consider this fact:
■Three out of four students who entered the statewide program this year had attended a private school the previous year. In Racine, just 12% of the new students had been in private schools, and 66% had transferred from public schools.
So 75% of the kids in the voucher program were not in the public schools last year and are not in the public schools this year. Why would the public schools need to raise local property taxes to educate them? They don’t.
I say it again… there is no rational justification for public schools to raise local property taxes because of the voucher program. The voucher program is driving up state spending, but that’s no reason for local taxes to increase. The public schools is using confusion over the voucher program expansion to do what too many of them want to do anyway… increase taxes and spending.
MADISON — Public school districts and taxpayers across the state could feel the impact of vouchers this year, as more than $16 million is transferred from public schools to pay for new entrants into the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program.
State law now requires public school districts to pay for vouchers. The money will be deducted from state aid.
A total of 142 public school districts have students who use taxpayer-funded subsidies to attend private schools. The state deducted $16.1 million in aid to cover the cost of new voucher students, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
First, let us remember that while the school district will not get the state aid associated with the voucher student, neither does the school district have to educate the student. They will incur exactly zero cost to educate the cost and will consequently not receive any state aid for that kid’s education. Meanwhile, the school that is educating the student will receive the state money allocated to provide that education. Seems like a reasonable deal to me.
Second, remember how incredibly tiny the state voucher program is. Last year the state spent $5.3 billion on state aid for school districts. $16.1 million is 0.3% of all state aid. I think the state’s public education infrastructure will survive.
Looks like our Attorney General is once again trying to use his office to advance the administration’s political goals.
Dear Attorney General Holder:
I am writing on a matter of great concern to me. On April 9, 2013, the Department of Justice (DOJ) wrote to direct the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to develop new procedures to ensure the Milwaukee Parent Choice Program (MPCP) is in compliance with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In its letter, the DOJ said “[b]ecause the school choice program is a public program funded and administered by the State, the State’s administration of the program is subject to the requirements of Title II.”
I agree that the State must abide by Title II regulations, but Congress clearly did not intend for private schools to be bound by Title II obligations. Congress devised a careful structure in the ADA, outlining five different areas in which persons with disabilities have legal rights and assigning unique requirements to each area. Title II of the ADA prohibits public entities from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. Title III of the ADA prohibits places of public accommodations, such as private schools, from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. In applying this, the DOJ’s own technical compliance manual states that “[p]ublic entities are not subject to title III of the ADA, which covers only private entities” and “[c]onversely, private entities are not subject to title II.” The key difference at issue is the standard set for compliance under Title II and Title III. The MPCP should have no effect on the careful balance Congress crafted.
While the program is publically funded, the individual schools participating in MPCP are no more publically funded than a gas station accepting money from a SNAP recipient. Indeed, in 1990, in its analysis of the Milwaukee choice program, the Department of Education determined that federal disability laws do not apply to “placements in private schools resulting from parents’ decisions to participate in the Choice Program.”
The effect of the argument in your April 9th letter would be to regulate private schools under Title II of the ADA. I have spent my career committed to helping those with disabilities, but Congress did not create differing compliance standards by happenstance. The intent of the law is plainly clear, and this fact has been repeated by the Department of Education and the courts on several occasions. I ask that DOJ remain mindful of this fact during its federal investigation of MPCP. I am worried about the incorrect application of Title II ADA standards and the effect this will have on the viability of private school voucher programs.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
My column for the Daily News is online. Check it out.
The Wisconsin Legislature will soon begin in earnest to craft the next biennial budget that will guide state government through the next two years. It has been a month since Gov. Scott Walker issued his budget proposal, and the Legislature will spend the next three months taking his proposals, vetting them through the fire of the legislative process, injecting many of their own proposals, and at the end they will send a budget to Walker’s desk.
One of the major proposals in Walker’s budget that is likely to be subject to a great deal of debate and revision is a dramatic expansion in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program.
The WPCP was launched in 2013 as a limited expansion of school choice throughout Wisconsin, excluding Milwaukee and Racine which have school choice programs. The WPCP is limited to providing vouchers for 1,000 kids (1,000 for next school year) from lowincome families to attend the private school of their choice. In the current school year, 25 schools participated and the 1,000 vouchers were issued using a somewhat convoluted lottery system.
Walker’s proposal is to remove the 1,000-voucher limit on the WCPC and allow for an unlimited number of vouchers. At the same time, Walker is proposing a way to fund the vouchers by reallocating state funds that would have been sent to the child’s corresponding public school. Finally, Walker’s proposal seeks to limit the availability of vouchers to only kids who were not already attending a private school.
Let us start with the good part of Walker’s proposal. The cap on school choice should be lifted. Period.
The whole reason for school choice is to provide the opportunity for families to send their kids to the school of their choice. Families who have the means already have this choice. The WPCP and other school choice programs seek to allow families of any financial status to choose the best school for their kids. If we ascribe to this ethos, then an arbitrary cap on the number of families who can participate is nonsensical.
The remainder of Walker’s ideas regarding funding and placing restrictions on the WPCP requires some work from the Legislature. The idea to limit vouchers to only those kids who have not already attended a private school is, like the cap, nonsensical.
The purpose of this restriction is to keep a budgetary restraint on the expansion of school choice. The reality is that there are many families who are of sufficiently low income to qualify for school vouchers, but sacrifice to send their kids to a private school. This restriction would forbid those families from receiving a voucher to prevent the taxpayers from picking up a bill that they are not currently paying. While the attempt at fiscal control is laudable, this is not the place to do it. Again, if we ascribe to the principle that school choice exists to provide all families — regardless of income — the opportunity to choose the right school for their kids, then we cheapen that principle when we seek to carve out exemptions and exclusions.
While the WPCP began as an extremely limited program with only 1,000 vouchers available for more than 750,000 school kids in the entire state, it is clear that it is going to be substantially expanded in the next budget.
This likely expansion is opening up opportunities all over the state, including here in Washington County. Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School has become the first private high school in the county to enter the WPCP. As the father of a past, present and future student of KML, I have paid close attention to the risks and rewards of the school entering the program. It is a great school and the prospect of more kids able to attend it is nothing but upside for the kids and their parents.
Much like with the debate over right-to-work, the Legislature should focus on keeping the expansion of WPCP simple. They should eschew attempts to complicate it with exclusions, complicated funding formulas, limits, caps, and other complexities that dilute the program.
School choice is a simple idea based on a simple principle. All kids should have access to the best education for them irrespective of their families’ financial means. A clean expansion of the WPCP advances that principle.
(Owen Robinson is a West Bend resident.)