At this time next year, Wisconsin's Republicans will shout from the rooftops, "SEE?!! Vouchers work!" The numbers may look that way, but it will merely be more incredible spin from the right to their incredibly gullible backers.
Don't believe it. It's garbage--just a natural function of the way Walker has carefully crafted the state's new private school voucher system. Voucher (choice) school scores will go up, and public school scores will go down, but the Republicans will build their case by ignoring three vital factors.
1) Vouchers were originally set up to provide economically-disadvantaged students the chance to attend private schools, and theoretically, receive a better educational fit than they could from a public school. Results show that students from such disadvantaged backgrounds have performed much lower academically than their non-disadvantaged peers. Compared to similarily disadvantaged students (those that receive free or reduced lunch) in public schools, choice school students generally performed the same or worse than their public school counterparts on state tests in 2010-11, the first year choice schools were even required to take the same assessments. Now, with an unlimited number of Racine and Milwaukee students from more economically-sound homes able to use vouchers thanks to new state budget provisions (the income level requirement for a family of four went from $39,111 to $74,050, if headed by a married couple), such students will tend to skew the results upward, while economically-disadvantaged students--the students in most need--will still founder.
lawsuit from the ACLU details these discrepencies, as well as includes alleged examples of private schools dissuading students with special needs from attending their schools. Theoretically, then, private voucher schools can more likely cherry-pick the students that would do well in their schools, and more easily rid themselves of students that don't make the grade (including behaviorally-and cognitively-challenged children). And, based on my conversations with private voucher school personnel, they do just that.
3) Because of additional resources and personnel required, students with special needs require more money to educate than do their peers. With private voucher schools having fewer such students, and public schools having their large numbers of the same, thanks to Walker's budget, public education is expected to lose $1.68 billion in revenue authority and $835 million in state school aid over the next two years, according to the Dept. of Public Instruction and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. That means much less money for public schools, while still being required to provide more services than private voucher schools. Do the math. Which schools do you think have a fair shot at improving their test scores?
An excellent example of the challenges that are faced even in urban-based, private voucher schools appears in Sunday's Journal Sentinel via Alan Borsuk. The article details the troubles at CEO Leadership Academy in Milwaukee, a private voucher (choice) school that seems to have a lot going for it--including the guiding hand of big-time choice advocate and former MPS Superintendent Howard Fuller. Real-world circumstances in students' lives at CEO make large-scale success difficult. So much so, the private voucher school will become a charter school , authorized by Milwaukee city government, and thus increasing its yearly per-student voucher payment from $6442 to $7445, because more funds are needed to try to effectively reach these students.
These problems don't even cover not having state-directed curriculum, employing teachers without teaching certification (they just need Bachelor's degrees--sect. 119.23-- with no training in teaching methods or the study of how children learn), requiring no educator background checks, dividing community by diminishing the importance of a neighborhood public school, and the possibility that Walker's veto pen (or his Legislature's backdoor dealings) will surreptitiously include even more cities in this attempt to destroy public education and, most vile of all, put disadvantaged urban youths at even more disadvantage.
More funding will be taken from public schools and given to private schools through the voucher program. State Superintendent Tony Evers calls such expansion of the voucher system "morally wrong."
And it is.
But, mark my words, next year, Wisconsin Republicans will say vouchers work. And it may seem that way.
But not to the kids who need it most.
Photo from FoxNews