2019 | Week of February 25 | #1297
I’m not sure what people expected when the former State Superintendent of Public Instruction was elected governor of Wisconsin this past November. Tony Evers earned all his college degrees from UW-Madison. He spent years teaching and being an administrator in public schools in our state. In 2001, he was appointed by deputy state superintendent of public instruction and in 2009 was elected Superintendent. In other words, Evers is steeped in public school philosophy and is thoroughly dedicated to both the entities and the philosophy.
When he was Superintendent of Public Instruction, he made it very clear he was no fan of school choice. Under his leadership, the Department of Public Instruction wrote rules and regulations designed to make it very hard for schools who wanted to take voucher students, a school choice program designed to allow lower- to middle-income families to send their children to a private school using a voucher issued by the state.
At first those restrictions applied on to Milwaukee because only Milwaukee had a voucher program. When Walker was governor, he and the Republican-led state legislature added a voucher program for Racine and then for the entire state. Evers was never happy about those expansions.
In his view school choice takes money from the public schools. Like others in the system, Evers believes more money is the answer to everything in the public schools. Interestingly, when you ask people like Tony Evers how much money it will take to get public schools funded where they want them, the answer is never a specific dollar amount. It’s just a one-word response: “more.”
During his campaign for governor, Evers talked about additional funding for public schools. He talked about dismantling the school choice program and then after taking office walked that idea back—a little.
Now it’s budget time. This Thursday, Governor Evers will address both houses of our state legislature and give some details about his first budget. Over the past couple of weeks, Evers has been teasing the media and the public with some of what will be in his budget. Two weeks ago it was legalizing medical marijuana and decriminalizing what Evers calls “small amounts” of marijuana. Last week, he announced his $28 million proposal for so-called women’s health and infant care, which includes restoring funding—meaning taxpayer money—for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. And this week, he’s touting his education proposal.
While he’s not calling for the complete dismantling of the school choice program, he is proposing a freeze on enrollment in the voucher program, changes in accreditation for the schools and in the certification requirements for teachers. Currently, the statewide program expands 1% per year until the 2025-2026 school year when it reaches 10% of a given district’s student population. After that, the cap is lifted entirely. Evers’ proposal would cap it for the 2021-22 school year, with new students allowed to enroll only as others graduate or leave the program.
In Evers’ myopic world, school districts are cheated financially because of vouchers. He even wants to issue a statement to that effect on property tax bills. The truth is, taxpayers save a bundle when children in their district are voucher students. The average per-pupil cost of educating a child in Wisconsin’s public schools is over $11,000 per year. The highest amount available for a voucher is $8,400 for grades 9-12 and $7,754 for other grades—and not every school qualifies for the highest amounts. However, even if every student in all the voucher programs qualified for the highest amount, taxpayers would be saved $2600 per student, which quickly adds up.
Independent studies done by groups such as Wisconsin Law and Liberty continue to show voucher schools are doing a great job of educating students, outperforming the public schools on most measures on considerably less money. But that doesn’t matter to Tony Evers because in his view the only good school is a government school; and in this budget, Evers wants to increase public school funding by over $1 billion.
Fortunately, our state legislature doesn’t agree with Evers. The question is will they hold out to the very end of the budget and still say no to these onerous proposals when the heat gets turned up and the bargaining is intense.
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This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the Prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”