Look, I already knew school vouchers were a cynical scam meant to defund public education and (like many things in Fitzwalkerstan) funnel taxpayer dollars to campaign contributors. But this week, we found out it's even more of a money shuffle than we thought, with the funds going into fewer and fewer hands, and the concept of "school choice" being shown to be a total lie.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction broke down more than 2,000 of the applicants who wanted to go to 25 of these voucher schools, and it turns out that the vast majority of these kids aren't coming from public schools.
The top 25 schools had 2,069 eligible students apply to be in the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program. Of those students, 76 percent (1,566) did not attend a Wisconsin public school last year, and 24 percent (503) were from public schools. Of the 2,069 eligible students, 67 percent (1,393) attended a private school last year.Even worse, the voucher system passed by WisGOP and backed by Walker did not give precedence to students who were trying to move from public schools to private schools. So what this means is that it is likely a majority of families getting funds to send their kids to private schools were already sending their kids to private schools! Which makes the voucher payment nothing more than a WELFARE PAYMENT to those parents, and a TAXPAYER-FUNDED PAYOFF to the schools who have worked just fine without the government cheese.
The Wisconsin Parental Choice Program is limited to 500 students for the 2013-14 school year. State law requires the department to conduct a random drawing of eligible student applications and allocate 10 seats to each of the 25 schools and then fill the remaining 250 seats randomly. The random selection of student applications will be conducted by computer next week.
And by the way, it is extremely likely that those funds will be going to churches and other religious organizations, as every one of the top 25 schools that students applied to are Christian-affiliated (and 20 of the 25 are Catholic). So my taxpayer dollars are now paying mostly Catholic schools to educate kids that they were going to educate anyway (which means the funds could conceivably be used elsewhere in the Church). That's a reassuring thought.
Oh yeah, these schools also aren't held to the same accountability standards as public schools. Yes, Sen. Luther Olsen and Rep. Steve Kestell want to have voucher schools graded along with all other types of schools, with the possibility of "restructuring," closing the school, or other punishments if the school falls short in 3 straight years. But this has obvious flaws, the first of which is that grading schools without having poverty as a major consideration is a failed premise to begin with. As we saw in Indiana, what happens when a certain favored charter or voucher school is in danger of failing? Do they cover it up and change the grades, like Tony Bennett and company did in Hoosierland? Fortunately, I can't see current School Superintendent Tony Evers cheating like this, but imagine if GOP hack Tom Pridemore had somehow won? No way would they be judged fairly.
More realistically, does anyone think Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is going to make any effort to put vouchers on a fair playing field with public schools? Especially when the last 3 WisGOPs that had his Speaker position all work for the voucher lobby, and Vos became Speaker in no small part because of big donations and promotions by the voucher folks to get GOPs elected. (I'm not even going to mention Vos needing his 2nd annulment, as I'm sure THAT doesn't play in here :P) Like most Republicans in the 21st Century, the voucher boys are all about getting taxpayer funding without taxpayer accountability, and they sure as hell aren't going to give that status up unless they have to.
Finally, if you actually did believe that school vouchers weren't a scam and were really intended to give parents choices on where to send their kids to school, I got a few questions for you. Wouldn't public school parents be given the first priority to get a voucher to test out these places, since conceivably they're the ones who have fewer "choices" without vouchers? Wouldn't you demand voucher schools to have the same accountability tests and measures as public schools, if "choice" and "competition" are the main goals? And why in the hell would you give rich parents a tax break of up to $10,000 to pay for their kids' private school tuition, but offer no similar tax break for choosing to send their kids to public schools?
Because the obvious answer to these questions is that Walker and WisGOP want to favor private sector schools over public ones, creating a two-tier school structure where the private schools and the parents of the kids who go to private school get all the advantages at the expense of public schools and public school parents.
Nearly 60 years ago, Brown v. Board of Education ended "separate but equal" schools after overwhelming evidence showed that the schools were NOT equal. Well given what's being set up by the Wisconsin GOP and its welfare-ridden voucher system, separate but equal is being reinstated in Dairyland in a big way.
8:43 AM PT: UPDATES- Here are a couple of really good other blogs on the voucher scam.
Wisconsin Soapbox gives the perspective of a Milwaukee teacher, and gives even more background on this.
Madison-area school board member Jeff Simpson also discusses the scams in Wisconsin and Indiana, including the Milwaukee voucher principal who owes the state $300,000 due to fraud and can't be tracked down.