Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has faced pushback of late from his own party when it comes to his private school voucher expansion, but now it seems he’s cleared some major hurdles and will move forward.
We’ve known for some time that Walker had grand plans to fund religious and other private schools statewide, which I’m sure had nothing to do with the fact that voucher advocacy groups have donated $2.35 million to support Walker since 2006.
And while we knew Walker would come on strong with his scheme, it seemed for a moment that his own party would put a stop to his plans. Earlier this year, Wisconsin Senate President Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) said he would oppose Walker’s voucher proposal in the fiscal 2014-15 budget because Walker had ignored the input of a handful of Republicans who don’t support voucher expansion, according to The Wall Street Journal.
But this morning, the Associated Press reported that Republicans have reached a deal to expand private school vouchers. Walker told the AP last week that he now wants vouchers to be available in all school districts, but limited to 1,000 students per district after next year. A maximum of one percent of students could participate in any given district, except for Milwaukee and Racine, he told the AP.
Walker had originally sought private school vouchers in only nine cities but with no enrollment maximum after two years, the Fond du Lac Reporter said.
Walker and his allies may think private school vouchers are a ticket to better education for many students, but they’re wrong. A study released this year on voucher students in Milwaukee and Racine (the only districts currently eligible for vouchers), showed they scored lower than their public school peers in both reading and math in 2012.
About 13 percent of voucher students scored proficient or better in math, while about 19 percent of public school students were at that level. As for reading, about 11 percent of private voucher students scored proficient or better in reading compared with about 14 percent of public school students.
Bob Peterson, president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, said in a statement that these results should tell lawmakers that taking money away from public schools is bad policy.
“They should provide fair funding for our successful public school system, and stop throwing money away on underperforming vouchers, so that all students in Wisconsin can continue to have access to a high-quality public education,” he said.
And yet Walker won’t listen. He told the Reporter that: “Every two years we’re going to come back and talk about further expansion.”
To make matters worse, misguided legislators have found an additional way to entice more students to enroll at private schools – all at taxpayer expense, of course.
This week, the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee approved a new tax credit for tuition expenses of up to $4,000 per year for elementary schoolers and up to $10,000 for high school students. It would take effect starting in 2014, and would cost the state about $30 million, the AP reported.
So what do we have here? Walker seems driven to pump state funds into religious and other private schools, no matter what. He doesn’t seem to care about test scores or how much money is pulled away from public schools. And he certainly hasn’t expressed any apprehension about using taxpayer money to fund religious enterprises.
If you live in Wisconsin, let your lawmakers know what you think about this.
Americans United has been fighting vouchers nationwide for years, but it seems Wisconsin is one of our toughest battles to date. This is going to be a long fight, but we’re in it for the long haul.