The war on public education in Wisconsin continues, with more evidence that GOP-led privatization and curriculum control is failing the state. This has shown in 2 different stories that emerged last week.
1. The first involves the Department of Public Instruction releasing information on the first group of students included in the expanded voucher program that was part of the budget passed by the GOP-run Legislature, and signed by Governor Walker.
For the 2013-14 school year, there are 512 students receiving a voucher, which totals 499.9 full-time-equivalent (FTE) students. Four-year-old kindergarten students attending partial day programs are counted as 0.5 FTE or 0.6 FTE, depending on the services provided. Of students receiving vouchers this year, 406 (79 percent) did not attend a Wisconsin public school last year. Twenty-one percent of students (106) were from public schools and 73 percent (371) attended a private school during the 2012-13 school year.And even those numbers don't give you an indication of the scam that this expanded voucher system is proving to be. When you account for all students that attended ANY type of school in Wisconsin last year, the private school percentage goes up to 75.9%, and another 2.5% were homeschooled. 22 others didn't attend school at all, and many of them also might have been going to private school this year before they received a voucher.
Participating Appleton and Green Bay/De Pere private schools have the highest voucher enrollment, each with 53 FTE students. Private schools in Oshkosh are enrolling 49 FTE voucher students for the 2013-14 school year, followed by Wisconsin Rapids with 43 FTE; the Eau Claire/Altoona area with 37 FTE; and Manitowoc with 36 FTE students.
So at least 3/4 of those who got vouchers ALREADY WOULD HAVE GONE TO SCHOOLS LIKE THIS, which means the schools (via the families) are getting nothing short of a taxpayer-funded subsidy for these students, and trading it for any tuition costs. And yes, every one of these schools are Christian-based, with more than 3/4 being Catholic.
So we're giving straight cash to churches, which very likely is going to "other needs" outside of education (and very possibly to things no public school would ever be allowed to get with), while taking money away from every other public school district in the state to pay for this program. And there's no real evidence that these schools do any better in educating students. Even the right-leaning Politico called out the bad performance of voucher schools this month.
In Milwaukee, just 13 percent of voucher students scored proficient in math and 11 percent made the bar in reading this spring. That’s worse on both counts than students in the city’s public schools. In Cleveland, voucher students in most grades performed worse than their peers in public schools in math, though they did better in reading.And speaking of tests and school standards, that was part of the next level of GOP education fail.
In New Orleans, voucher students who struggle academically haven’t advanced to grade-level work any faster over the past two years than students in the public schools, many of which are rated D or F, state data show.
2. Wisconsin was one of 45 states to go along with national, Common Core standards in 2010, but the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee inserted a provision into the last budget allowing for reconsideration about the standards. As part of that GOP-approved provision in the budget, the Legislature and DPI have held hearings in various locations of the state to discuss how Common Core would work in Wisconsin, and whether the state should stick with it.
State Rep. Christine Sinicki pulled back the curtain on these hearings,saying she would not continue as a Dem reprentative to these Common Core hearings, and denounced them as a GOP-led sham.
It has become painfully clear that this committee and its activities are occurring at the behest of interested parties outside of this Legislature, and even this state. I believe that this SCCCS is primarily a roadshow, in conjunction with the Republican National Committee (RNC) and its April 2013 resolution, to distract from that party’s recent national failures. The general criticisms of the Common Core Standards here in Wisconsin echo the extreme statements coming out of the RNC, which is a campaign organization, and other Republican sources in Washington, D.C. and around the country.Blue Cheddar has more on the John Birch connections, with video of the meeting Rep. Sinicki references. It is also worth mentioning that the Wisconsin public school officials that have testified at these meeting have almost universally said that they want the state to continue to adopt Common Core. If the state would not do so, it would cause districts to have to go back to the drawing board, wasting many hours that have been spent adjusting school curricula and standards, which would likely hurt public schools' performance and morale of staff.
This extremism about common standards, not to mention public education in general, seems to emanate from the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. And in turn, they have attracted another extreme and very rich ally in the national John Birch Society (JBS), which is conveniently headquartered here in Wisconsin. Each of the SCCCS’s informational hearings have featured speakers suggested to the SCCCS chairs by the JBS, and whose travel expenses from distant parts of the country have been paid for by the American Opinion Foundation (AOF), a proud arm of the Birch Society. On Wisconsin Eye video of the Eau Claire SCCCS hearing, these invited speakers from other states say, bizarrely, that they don’t know who it was that called and invited them but that, upon arrival, they were handed expense checks issued by AOF (which they then show the committee members). In the meantime, actual Wisconsin educators who have attended the hearings on their own initiative have often been turned away from testifying due to the bulk of attention and time being reserved for invited speakers.
On top of the above, the last straw for me as a Milwaukee legislator has been the omission of Milwaukee Public Schools in the SCCCS’s hearing schedule. MPS is the state’s largest school district and its educators have already spent thousands of hours designing curricula for hundreds of different classrooms under the guidance of the Common Core Standards. These experienced staff should have had the chance to talk about their successful effort with the CCS without having to drive hours away to do so.
Not surprisingly, that doesn't matter to the bratty kids that define today's WisGOP. And they weren't going to let Sinicki's statement about the Tea Party-led effort to screw up Common Core go quietly. Democurmudgeon does a good job laying out today's low-class insults and borderline misogyny by Waukesha County GOP Sen. Paul Farrowand fellow Bagger Rep. Jeremy (let the homeschoolers play for whoever they want) Thiesfeldt. That might impress the dead-enders that listen to Milwaukee hate radio, but it sure doesn't help our state figure out the best way to teach its K-12 students.
Of course, screwing up public schools isn't something that concerns today's GOP, in fact, they'd probably prefer it, so they could justify cutting further aid to those schools, and sending more money to vouchers, who in turn send the money back to GOP legislators in the form of campaign contributions. Look at how convicted criminal Scooter Jensen is trying to buy the South Milwaukee-area Assembly race for voucher puppet Jessie Rodriguez.
Given that we know that facts and results don't matter to today's WisGOP, only money and power do, it means they won't adjust their thinking on their own. So we have to take these radical haters of public education out of office, and put the failed school privatization movement into the dustbin of Wisconsin history, before we lose any more of one of our state's few economic advantages- strong public schools. With three GOP-leaning-but-winnable Assembly seats being decided in the next 50 days, there's no better time than now to start making these bums pay.