VOUCHSAFED: State's private school voucher program doesn't deliver the goods yet gets bigger | WisCommunity

VOUCHSAFED: State's private school voucher program doesn't deliver the goods yet gets bigger

Sen. Kathleen Vinehout's earlier post here on the state's misbegotten private school voucher program is informative and well argued. Coincidentally, Milwaukee's independent, nonpartisan Public Policy Forum just revealed in an analysis that the private voucher schools serving that city's poor students aren't producing better math or reading scores than the city's public schools, which defect proponents insisted was a key reason for starting up the program.

This is the first such comparison since the state program began in Milwaukee nearly 20 years ago. That's because Republicans had long fought any requirement that voucher school academic performance be subject to measurement comparing their results to those of the Milwaukee Public Schools. That was the district so vilified that it lost hundreds of millions of dollars in teaching monies to the voucher program. The Journal Sentinel's report today on the Policy Forum's findings said:

The Public Policy Forum's report ... compared student performance among voucher schools based on last year's release of statewide testing data. By law voucher school students were for the first time required to take Wisconsin's annual standardized achievement test that all public school students take. The report focused on the performance levels of schools with high rates of student poverty against schools with considerably lower rates.

Unfortunately, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel front-pager revealing that disappointing result buried that policy forum revelation on an inside page near the story bottom. The newspaper focused instead (in a big headline and in the front-page story itself) on how voucher program enrollment is up significantly since Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled legislature expanded the program last year. 

Of course, beyond that, voucher schools are private schools, meaning public funds in Wisconsin are are used to support non-public education, at the expense of public education. Bad, bad idea all around. Worse, still, as the senator notes, after a public school district falls under the voucher program based on low-income requirements, the program continues even if income levels later improve. The Journal Sentinel again:

... once a family is enrolled in the voucher program, it can stay permanently - even if the family's income rises and exceeds the program's income cap.

"The families come in with the voucher, so that's a benefit for the schools because that's a stable source of revenue," [the Policy Forum's Annilese] Dickman said.

On top of that, the voucher program has changed from one targeted to at-risk, low-income students (who aren't doing better than their public school peers, remember) and toward one that is aimed at middle- and upper-middle-class families. Under the new law's guidelines, a family of four making up to $67,050 can participate in the voucher program. Compare that to the median annual household income in Milwaukee: $35,921. 

Nope, the voucher program is now not only ineffiicent and even useless, it is becoming an increasingly huge drain on tax dollars, and has turned into a subsidy program for relatively well-off families. And it's hurting public schools. No revenue stability for public schools, which took a $1.6 billion hit under Walker's budget, but for private schools participating in the voucher program the state guarantees revenue stability, at the expense of public schools, and at the general expense of some taxpayers in favor of others.

In short, if you were an ideologue who set out to destroy public education in Wisconsin, the voucher program would be one great way to start. And, as Sen. Vinehout notes, this ridiculous private school voucher program may soon be coming to public schools outside Milwaukee and lately Racine, thanks to GOP machinations already legally enabled.

So be afraid. Be very afraid.

Here's the URL to the news story on the forum's findings:


February 13, 2012 - 3:43pm