Boots & Sabers

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Tag: School Choice

Walker Proposes Changes to School Choice

Governor Walker gave his budget address tonight. The biggest thing that wasn’t already floated is a major change in School Choice. WisPolitics has some details:

In addition to lifting the caps on the number of students and schools that could participate in the choice program statewide, Walker is calling for a change to how the vouchers are funded for students added to the program and new limits on who can join.

After the program was expanded statewide two years ago, reports found the vast majority of students who joined were already attending private schools. Under the budget, those now in the outstate choice program would be allowed to remain. But those seeking to join the program going forward would already have to be attending a public school.

The vouchers are also now funded through a GPR appropriation. But funding for the outstate slots would be changed, under Walker’s plan. The schools who lose students to the choice program would have their aid reduced, and that money would then be pooled statewide and divided equally among the outstate choice students.

Doing so would smooth out the differences in the amount of state aid sent to districts based on property values, administration officials say. For example, districts with high property values receive less in state aid than those with low property values. The approach would ensure students from both districts would receive the same sized voucher, administration officials say.

Eh… it’s a step in the right direction, but I’m not crazy about it. What Walker is trying to do is make it so that he can expand school choice without adding spending. It’s a good goal, but a flawed way to get there.

The “problem” that Walker highlights is that many of the families who qualified for vouchers were already attending a private school. So the kids were already attending private school and it wasn’t costing the taxpayers anything, but now it is. It is an expense that the state taxpayers did not previously have.

This is only perceived as a “problem” in the context of government spending, but not in the overall purpose of school choice. The philosophy behind school choice is pretty simple. The taxpayers are obligated, both morally and constitutionally, to pay for an education for Wisconsin’s kids. In the existing system, rich families already have a choice to send their kids to the school of their choice. Means-tested vouchers level the playing field by facilitating the same choice for all families.

In this case, it is quite true that there are many families who qualify for vouchers – meaning that they are in the lower part of the income scale – were already sending their kids to private school. Some of them are making tremendous sacrifices to make it happen. Some are receiving financial aid through their churches or elsewhere. Some are managing to pay for it with support from their extended families. Now they can receive a voucher to make the sacrifice not as painful. So what? Why is this a “problem?” Are these families somehow less worthy than families who made different choices by sending their kids to public school? I certainly don’t think so. If people are worried that they were managing to send their kids to private school already, then lower the income threshold overall.

What I don’t like about Walker’s plan is that it creates a patchwork of rules that does not treat all people the same. Under his plan, families in Milwaukee and Racine are unaffected. Any of them still qualify irrespective of whether or not they already attend a private school or not. Families who already qualified for vouchers in the rest of Wisconsin can keep getting them. But families who either didn’t win the lottery last time, are just having kids come of age, or perhaps just slipped under the income threshold to qualify, may only receive a voucher if their kids attend a public school.

What a mess…

If this passes, expect a lot of families to enroll their kids in public school just to yank them out after the first day and move them to a private school with a voucher.

Like I said, it’s a step in the right direction in lifting the caps and looking for a better funding mechanism, but it should be a program that treats all families equally.


Burke Opposes School Choice

No secret here.

The most effective argument against expanding Wisconsin’s statewide voucher program is how much it could cost, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke said Monday.

“We have to get out of the ideological warfare on this (issue) and let’s just talk dollars and cents, which resonates with just about everyone,” Burke said.

Burke’s comments were made to attendees of an invitation-only panel discussion at UW-Madison. About 40 people attended the event, which included National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García. The discussion was moderated by Wisconsin Education Association Council president Betsy Kippers.

Burke pointed to a $1.2 billion projected total annual cost of the voucher system if it expanded, which she said would likely be at the expense of programs and teachers in public schools.

“We’re all smart enough to realize that if there’s a certain amount of funding that is going to the voucher program, unless the taxes are raised to pay for that or it comes from another part of the budget, it’s going to come from the public schools,” Burke said.

Notice that Burke is talking to a crowd packed with public school advocates, so she talks about what she thinks is the best way to combat school choice without leaving any room for anyone who supports school choice.

But to her point… the financial argument always falls flat for me. Yes, if the state sends money to a choice school because a kid opts to attend it, those dollars are going to be taken from the public school. But also, the PUBLIC SCHOOL DOESN’T HAVE TO EDUCATE THE KID. When a kid goes to a choice school, the public school district incurs zero cost to educate that kid. And the voucher funded by the taxpayers is less than what it would take to educate that kid in the public schools.

Here’s what we have when kids use the school choice program: taxpayers spend less; public schools have no cost; child receives an education more to the family’s liking. Who loses here?

But that’s just it. Lefties don’t oppose school choice because of the financials, educational rigor, or anything related to what’s best for the kid. They oppose it because it decreases the market share of a government institution. And we can’t have that.

Governor Walker Proposes Expanding School Choice

It’s a start.

MIDDLETON — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker says he doesn’t have a number in mind for how much he wants to grow the private-school voucher program, should he be elected to a second term.

Walker said Wednesday after touring a sensor manufacturer in Middleton that he wants to grow the program in stages, so there is capacity for all the students who wish to participate.

Walker has been an advocate for school choice for years, so we know his heart is in the right place. Personally, I’d like to see something more bold. Let’s do full, statewide school choice that’s available to any family who chooses to participate. It is difficult to make any rational argument as to why the government should only allow an arbitrary few families a choice in a handful of districts while families elsewhere do not get that choice. Why is a kid struggling in the Hudson district, for example, any less deserving than one in Milwaukee?

Tear down this cap, Governor Walker!



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