Legislative Update – April 24

Special education funding. This bill (SB 211) increases state aid to school districts for special education and school age parents programs provided by the school district to no less than 33 percent of the school district’s certified, eligible costs. It is referred to the Senate Education Committee. Learn more.

WRS bill. This bill (SB 190), introduced this week, combines two proposals introduced by Sen. Duey Stroebel into one bill, which would raise the early retirement age from 50 to 52 for protective services employees and from 55 to 60 for general employees.  Furthermore, the bill would change the calculation for a participant’s final average earning from the highest 3 years to the highest 5 years.  Both of these changes would apply to new employees hired after the passage of the bill. Read more and see the bill history. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection, which Sen. Stroebel chairs.

Matching funds for deposits to school long-term capital improvement trust funds. This bill (SB 192), part of a package of bills relating to limits on school district funding referendums requires the Department of Public Instruction to provide matching funds for deposits that a school board makes to a long-term capital improvement trust fund. Under the bill, if a school board increases the levy limit for operating costs or capital costs, the school board is required to refund to DPI any matching funds it received during the 10 school years immediately preceding the resolution. If a school board fails to refund the amount of the matching funds to DPI within 12 months, DPI must reduce the school district’s state aid to cover the amount due. Learn more.

Referendum restrictions on local control: voting by common, union high school districts. (SB 191) prohibits common and union high school districts from voting on a resolution to exceed the revenue limit of a school district at a special meeting. Learn more.

Referendum restrictions on local control: number of years a school boards can go to voters. Under this bill (SB 195), a school board would only be able to seek approval from voters in the school district to increase the revenue limit for five consecutive school years. Learn more.

Referendum restrictions on local control: When a board can schedule a vote. This bill (SB 194) limits school boards to schedule a referendum for the purpose of increasing the school district’s revenue limit only concurrent with a spring election or with the general election and only if the election falls no sooner than 70 days after the date on which the board adopts and files a resolution to that effect. Learn more.

Referendum restrictions on local control: What a board must include on referendum ballot. This bill (SB 187) requires a school board to include specific financial information on a referendum ballot, including the total amount of debt to be issued, the total amount of interest and related debt service costs to be incurred, and the sum of the principal, interest, and related debt service costs. Read more.

ESSA & the WI Legislature. The state Department of Public Instruction is working on a plan it needs to submit to the feds to comply with the new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, requiring participation by educators and other stakeholders. A bill, AB 233, received a public hearing this week and would require DPI to first submit its plan to the Assembly and Senate education committees for approval by May 15, letting lawmakers propose changes before it goes to the federal government for approval. See the bill history.

Final Joint Finance Committee Budget Hearing. The Legislature’s budget-writing panel concludes public hearings this week, and then is expected to debate the final version through May during which time the panel votes on budget items. The governor continues his statewide tour to tout his K-12 education budget.

Coming Up in the Legislature

April 24

  • Senate Committee on Education. The panel will hold an executive session on bills related to recovery charter schools and a mental health training program. Click for the agenda. Here’s a summary of the bills:
    • AB 11 authorizes the director of the Office of Educational Opportunity in the University of Wisconsin System to contract for the operation of a recovery charter school, insurance coverage of mental health treatment provided by a recovery charter school, and making appropriations.
    • AB 6 authorizes the director of the Office of Educational Opportunity in the University of Wisconsin System to contract for the operation of a recovery charter school, insurance coverage of mental health treatment provided by a recovery charter school, and making appropriations.

Recent Developments

April 20

  • Tech ed equipment grants. A fiscal estimate was received for SB 125, which provides technical education equipment grants for school districts, provides an exemption from emergency rule procedures, and grants rule-making authority. View Bill History

Don’t see something in the wrap-up? Looking for more information? Contact Christina Brey.

Teacher asks legislators to put voucher program to a statewide vote

La Crosse teacher John Havlicek asked legislators Wednesday to put the private school voucher program to a statewide vote. In testimony before the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee at a hearing in Ellsworth, Havlicek first read the names of nearly 100 people whose testimony supporting public education over vouchers was given to him to present to the committee (read some of that testimony here). Then he said:

“Nowhere in the history of our state – in the history of our country – has the public ever actually voted to approve vouchers, opportunity scholarships, or whatever we’re calling them. The research is clear, these (vouchers) do not benefit those students, they do not benefit those schools, other than their bottom line, and they hurt public education.

“If you’re so confident that we should have vouchers in Wisconsin, that we should be increasing the funding and that the voucher program should be expanded, I would ask you to put it to a statewide referendum. Put it to a vote!”

State Senator Lena Taylor posted this video on her Facebook page:

The Wisconsin Public Education Network posted this image of the binder holding testimony from 86 people supporting public education:


Public Education Advocates Flood Milwaukee Joint Finance Committee State Budget Hearing

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Just in case GOP legislators on the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) had forgotten how dramatically their last state budget hurt Milwaukee Public Schools, parents, students, educators, and community members came to the April 5 State Fair public budget hearing to remind them.

Public education supporters arrived early to the Milwaukee JFC hearing from all over Southeastern Wisconsin (Photo: Joe Brusky).

The hearing provided a steady flow of public education supporters who, one-by-one, stepped up to the microphone to testify in support of fair and equitable public schools. The last two-year state budget that passed, not only continued the massive cuts to Wisconsin’s public schools by over $2 billion dollars, but it also snuck in the Midnight Takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools. By inserting the non-fiscal Takeover plan into an Omnibus state budget bill at the last minute, legislators knew they could pass the controversial provision without holding public hearings. The Takeover was eventually defeated by a popular uprising against it and the sham Takeover Czar it empowered over the city’s democratically elected school board. But, the residents of Milwaukee have not forgotten, nor are they willing to allow it to happen again in the next budget.

Members of the Joint Finance Committee were seated above public hearing attendees and were separated by a yellow barrier fence (Photo: Joe Brusky).

The JFC is mandated to hold hearings around the state, and usually a wide array of issues are spoken to. This year, the one issue that came up again and again was public education. Kilbourn Elementary teacher Shari Redel took a personal day out of the classroom to speak up for her MPS students who currently receive thousands of dollars less in per pupil funding when compared to their suburban school counterparts:

MTEA member and Kilbourn Elementary teacher Shari Redel speaks before the JFC. Every time a public education supporter spoke, other advocates wearing “Go Public” t-shirts stood in support (Photo: Joe Brusky).

As a proud Milwaukee Public School teacher for the past thirty years and as the parent of a child who attends public school in a suburban district, I see firsthand the funding disparities, such as the unequal access to specialist teachers, lack of fully resourced libraries, large class sizes, and even the quality of hot lunch. I love my child very much, but I love my students too. It literally breaks my heart to know that my students are treated as less than because many are impoverished. I am asking you to raise the revenue limits so my students have the same opportunity as my own child.

The funding disparities that Redel speaks of have real consequences as Wedgewood teacher Julie Meyer attested to:

MTEA member and Wedgewood Park teacher Julie Meyer testifies before the JFC (Photo: Joe Brusky).

My principal made the choice to fund a social worker, yet because of that choice I have thirty-nine students in my class. We should not have to make that kind of a choice. We should have well funded public schools so I can address the needs of all my students with a smaller class size and I can have a social worker to address those imminent student needs. I ask you to please maintain the budgeted request for a $200 increase per pupil. Thank you!

MPS parent Jenni Linse Hofschulte registered her outrage over the last few state budgets included many public education killing provisions:

MPS parent Jenni Linse-Hofschulte speaks in favor of fair and equitably funded public schools (Photo: Joe Brusky).

These measures were not measures that were asked for by the constituency and parent and students in our state. In the next budget cycle the voucher scheme cap was expanded, but without accountability, a measure not being asked for by the constituency. In the next budget cycle, voucher accountability, as promised, never arrived and funding for our public schools was not restored, and finally in the cloak of darkness came the gifts of the OSSP otherwise known as the Milwaukee Takeover, a measure that was not being asked for by Milwaukeeans. I could have stood hear and asked for a lot today, but my request is really fundamental, please do not use the budget and Omnibus to strip local control and force measures on our schools. Show my 6 year old that you value and respect our voices, our community, and our public schools.

Another public school parent shared a story of how her desire to find the best education for her child with special needs led her to stumble upon why handing public dollars to private institutions only hurt public school children:

A public school parent and supporter of “Save Our Schools – Wauwatosa” testifies on what she discovered when she inquired about sending her child with special needs to a private school (Photo: Joe Brusky).

By the time Sam was four he finally found the right therapists to begin helping him and they told me to get him a public school evaluation. Prior to making that appointment I had called and toured several private schools to see what kind of services they could provide for Sam and his special needs. Each school’s representative told me they could not accommodate a child with special needs. So I was unsure if a public school could help if a private school couldn’t and I began to worry. I nervously called the Wauwatosa School District…and I was immediately put at ease as they reassured me that Tosa could meet our needs. Sam is now 9 years old, thriving at school, learning from incredible teachers on how to use coping strategies for any frustrations that pop up. This is the power of public school! I ask that you raise the revenue cap, providing $300 per year per student, and pause voucher school expansion until they have the same accountability measures as all publicly funded schools.

Students were also present at the Milwaukee JFC hearing. A group of students from Youth Empowered in the Struggle collectively stepped to the microphone to speak as well:

Youth Empowered in the Struggle (YES) students testify before the JFC on how budget cuts have hurt them and their teachers (Photo: Joe Brusky).

Today, we are here to demand that you fund our schools and stand up to Scott Walker, who already cut state tuition for undocumented students. This makes it harder for us to attend college. Our schools are underfunded and that is not a coincidence. We are Black and Brown working class students who live in impoverished communities. The lack of funding in our schools contributes to the school-to-prison-pipeline. How are we supposed to be productive citizens when you keep taking resources away from us? We are tired of being told their no money for art programs. We are tired of having to share worn down textbooks from the 1980s. Our teachers should not have to use their checkbooks to better serve us.

Students, parents, educators, administrators, and community supporters spoke all day long in support of a state budget that respected Milwaukee Public Schools and other public districts in our region. Public education advocates kept tally of speakers throughout the day. Of the 216 total speakers, an astonishing 73 spoke in favor of a strong public education budget that respected MPS, but will the legislators be listening this time?

Public education advocates set up camp on the State Fair parking lot outside the Milwaukee JFC public hearing, where these posters were hanging for all arriving to see (Photo: Joe Brusky).


YES Students Testify Before the Joint Finance Committee from MTEA Union on Vimeo.

Educators, parents ask legislators to prioritize public schools over vouchers in state budget

Educators and parents are asking members of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to provide more funding for public schools that educate all children and pull back funding for private voucher schools.

“I am very concerned that there is an increase in funding for the unaccountable voucher program in the budget,” La Crosse teacher Mary Ender Stutesman writes in testimony presented to the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee. “The voucher system with its lack of accountability – not only for the quality of education received by students but for the quality of teaching practiced there – does not improve our democratic goal of quality education for all.”

Stutesman was among several La Crosse Education Association members who presented written testimony. The Joint Finance Committee is re-writing Governor Walker’s state budget proposal and is conducting hearings this month.

“I am a firm believer in public education, and it pains me to see more money taken away from the public school system and given to the voucher system,” writes La Crosse teacher Lisa Colburn. “The public schools serve all students, regardless of their income, their ability or their disadvantages. Voucher schools not only pick and choose their students, they also remove students who struggle in their system. Those students are sent back to the public schools, where educators as always do their best to educate those students.”

In addition, Colburn added, students who attend voucher schools “do worse on standardized tests than their public school peers,” and many voucher schools have shut down, “taking state money and leaving the children behind.”

La Crosse teacher Bryan Morris asks legislators to provide equity in school funding. “By using the per-pupil funding method, you will be leaving our neediest districts and students behind,” he writes. “Please consider funding based upon needs rather than a one-size-fits-all method.”

“Each year our budgets are tighter and tighter, and the priority of education can no longer focus on what is best for kids because districts are struggling to pay the basic necessities such as lights, heat, bus transportation and office supplies,” writes La Crosse teacher Rose Kulig. “Despite tight budgets and high needs, we find money that used to be used for public schools being used to support vouchers to fund private schools that used to operate without the use of tax dollars. To me it seems our current situation will only get worse as more money is allocated for vouchers and less for public schools.”

La Crosse teacher Eric Martin writes that since 2010 in particular, “budgets have been brutal, and teachers have been asked to do more than ever while simultaneously acting as a political punching bag.”

“It is a testament to the excellence of our state’s educators that districts like ours in La Crosse have been able to still serve their students at a high level with the care that students deserve.”

Martin noted that fewer young people are going into the teaching profession and it’s not very difficult to connect the dots between that trend and “the way public education has been vilified by many in Wisconsin.”

“Wisconsin students deserve better from their state than they have received over much of the past decade,” Martin writes. “Wisconsin’s public schools have always been among the very best in the United States. We must continue to invest in them and pursue wise policies which will keep them that way for the sake of our most precious resource – our young people.”

La Crosse teacher Chad Wilkinson writes that he has taught in both the public and private school systems and that “one of the things that made teaching easier in the private school system was the ability to remove the worst kids, the kids that were tough to educate, and send them to the public school system.”

“Vouchers take money from the institution that needs it the most. In the public system, we get ‘those’ kids. We work hard to get them to graduate and succeed.”

La Crosse teacher Daniel Kaczmarowski notes that the governor’s budget proposal increases vouchers by $217 per pupil while increasing funding for public school students by only $200 per pupil. “If it is decided to continue down the road of funding more and more voucher students, our public schools will suffer as the state will not be able to afford its obligation, and districts will have to cut services for students. Stop throwing my tax dollars to (private) schools that, on average, achieve the same or worse than our excellent public schools in Wisconsin.”

La Crosse parent Andrew Stutesman writes that he is troubled by the “meager increase contained in the budget for public schools that educate every child.”

“This increase does not keep pace with inflation, while costs go up every year,” he writes. “Every year we have more students, with more profound challenges, that need more support. Yet, every year we end up decreasing that support. We have fewer social workers, fewer guidance counselors, fewer librarians, and fewer enrichment programs such as world languages and the arts. …

“I urge you to create a budget that does what government is supposed to do: provide for the least among us so that they, too, can participate in the American dream: a cultural, social, economic, and political success of our wonderful state!”

Wausau teacher Robert Hughes also emphasizes the need to support public education.

“Public schools are the one place in society where everyone gets a seat at the table,” Hughes writes. “People with diverse backgrounds have a right to a quality education, from certified public education teachers. We can make Wisconsin strong again by fully funding public schools, and breaking down barriers for the next generation.”

Private charter schools contribute to segregation, researchers find

An American Enterprise Institute report advancing privately run charter schools is flawed and actually demonstrates that private charter schools may be destructive of the common good by contributing to segregation, a new report shows.

The National Education Policy Center reviewed the American Enterprise Institute report, Differences by Design? Student Composition in Charter Schools with Different Academic Models, which compared differences in approaches and demographics between charter school models and public schools. The academic review of the report finds that it fails to consider: (1) a large body of research on parent-decision-making; (2) research suggesting that charter schools are not as innovative as they claim; and (3) the purpose and aims of an equitable public education system.

“While the authors and AEI may have conceived this report as a rationale for advancing charter schools, their data demonstrates that charter schools may be destructive of the common good,” the report states.

The report used enrollment demographics at different charter school models (e.g., art focused, no-excuses, single-sex, etc.), to demonstrate that different demographic groups attend different types of charter schools. With regard to different categories of race and ethnicity, family income, and special education status, the report documents demographic sorting as an outcome of school choice.

The reviewers find that the report presents charter school de facto segregation as a benign byproduct of parental choice. In fact, the review finds that the original report actually acknowledged that this type of stratification was part and parcel of a “properly” functioning charter sector – one in which parents get to choose the type of school their children attend.

The review finds that the American Enterprise Institute report relies heavily on its own reports and other pro-charter advocacy groups. Only two sources from the report were from peer-reviewed journals.

Read the Review

WEAC partners with the Great Lakes Center to share and provide academically sound reviews of education-related studies. WEAC President Ron Martin sits on the Great Lakes Board of Directors and exposes a flawed report advancing privately run charter schools.

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Legislative Update – April 10

Budget hearings ‘up north’ next week
Public education grabbed the spotlight at last week’s Joint Finance Committee budget hearings last week, and the next round is expected to reap more of the same – especially given the funding plight that has been plaguing rural schools in northern Wisconsin as a result of state cuts to schools over the past two biennial budgets. If you’re able to attend a hearing, email Communications@WEAC.org so we can be sure to capture your testimony. Watch video clips

This is your chance to have your voice heard, and we’re hearing that attendance has been relatively light, so please consider taking part in this important part of the process. All JFC hearings run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

  • Tuesday, April 18 –Spooner High School auditorium, 801 County Hwy A, Spooner
  • Wednesday, April 19 – Ellsworth High School gymnasium, 323 W. Hillcrest St, Ellsworth
  • Friday, April 21 –Marinette High School auditorium, 2135 Pierce Avenue, Marinette

Don’t Overlook Democratic Budget Hearings on Saturday, April 22
While the official budget hearings are being held during the day, when educators are working with students, Democratic leaders are hosting listening sessions at 10 a.m. on Saturday, April 22, to collect input. These are great opportunities to have your voice heard by legislators and media.

  • Democratic Budget Listening Sessions, 10 a.m., Saturday, April 22
    • Dodgeville City Hall, 198 E. Fountain Street, Dodgeville
    • UW-Marathon County, 518 South 7th Avenue, Wausau

Special Education Bill
Co-sponsors are being sought for LRB-0640/1 relating to increasing funding for special education. This bill increases state aid to school districts for special education and school age parent’s programs provided by the school district to no less than 33 percent of the school district’s certified, eligible costs.

Tech College Call to Action
WEAC technical college instructor members have launched an action alert to urge lawmakers not to support “performance-based funding” for technical colleges. Learn more and contact your legislators here.

Voucher School Referendum Bill
Four Democratic legislators are advancing a bill to give property taxpayers the final say on whether they want to be on the hook for tax dollars taken directly out of public schools to fund vouchers. The bill would require a referendum to pass before voucher schools can take state aid out of a public school district. The 2015 state budget changed state law to divert state funding to voucher schools at a rate much higher per student than public schools receive.

On the Forefront

  • Insiders are expecting Republicans to caucus this week for an up-down vote on the Constitutional Convention.

Democrats propose taxpayer oversight of voucher spending increases

From Senators Bewley and Miller and Representatives Pope and Hintz 

Bill would require referendum before funds could be diverted to private schools at property taxpayer expense 

Four Democratic budget and education leaders lauded voters for supporting public education in districts across the state and called for the same control over new spending at taxpayer-funded voucher schools that voters currently have over public schools.

“Schools districts across Wisconsin are forced to go to referendum time and again just to keep the lights on in schools that have served generations of Wisconsinites very well,” said Sen. Janet Bewley (D-Delta). “Our bill would give property taxpayers the final say on whether they want to be on the hook for tax dollars taken directly out of public schools to fund voucher operations.”

The legislators plan to introduce legislation requiring a referendum to pass before voucher schools can take state aid out of a public school district. The 2015 state budget changed state law to divert state funding to vouchers schools, at a rate much higher per student than public schools receive. The legislators believe voters deserve the same referendum oversight they have over public schools when property taxpayers are liable to face increases because voucher payments are being siphoned off.

“Our Republican colleagues decided to expand the voucher program into every corner of the state on the backs of property taxpayers,” said Sen. Mark Miller (D-Monona). “This bill would make voucher operators and their lobbyists answerable to voters before property taxpayers are forced to make up the difference.”

Under Gov. Walker’s proposed state budget, school districts would lose $7,700 to $8,400 per student in general state aid to voucher schools by 2019. The legislators noted figures from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau showing that public school students receive only $6,700 on average, meaning voucher schools are taking more out of public schools per student than state aid puts in.

“As state legislators we are responsible for state funding of public education. When we pointed out that voucher schools were receiving much more from the state per student than our public schools, voucher supporters were quick to shift attention to property taxes,” said Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Mount Horeb). “Public schools have made the case to property taxpayers in referendum after referendum and the voucher industry should be able to do the same.”

Additional figures from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau show that districts are losing $25.5 million to voucher schools this year alone.

“Under the last budget, Republicans changed state law to require that local property taxpayers now have to pay for private school tuition. In addition, three out of four of these private school students were already enrolled in private school before property taxpayers started picking up the tab,“ said Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh). “Public school districts throughout state, including 40 more this week, have gone to voters to raise property taxes. It is only fair that voters have an equal say on whether or not they want their property tax dollars diverted to private school tuition.”

The lawmakers pointed out that communities were forced to go to referendum 225 times since the beginning of 2016. School districts seeking voter approval to exceed revenue caps must provide detailed information on how tax dollars would be spent. The Democratic legislators said their bill will give taxpayers the opportunity to require voucher schools seeking local and state tax dollars to do the same.

Legislative Update – April 6

Joint Finance says they’ll work off governor’s budget – for the most part

The Joint Finance Committee is indicating it will use the governor’s proposed budget as the starting point for its deliberations except in transportation, where it will work off current law. It also identified 83 policy items that will be pulled from the budget to be considered in standalone bills, according to a memo released this afternoon. WEAC will analyze the memo to share more information soon.

Joint Finance Committee public hearings
The Joint Finance Committee began this week with budget hearings in Platteville on Monday and at State Fair Park near Milwaukee on Wednesday. The governor traveled the state as well, touting his proposed budget, which drew a strong reaction from educators at his Milton stop. Friday, the budget-writing panel will travel to Berlin for a third hearing.

Referendum restriction legislation

Just a week after a series of bills began circulating to limit local school board control of school referenda, Wisconsin voters went to the polls to pass about $700 million in public school funding. The winning referendum campaigns underline growing awareness by the public of the impact of severe cuts to public schools over the past few years. Forty of 65 referendum questions passed, down a bit from previous election cycles but still above historical averages.

New voucher spending bill in the works

On the heels of Tuesday’s election, four Democratic legislators are planning a bill to give property taxpayers the final say on whether they want to be on the hook for tax dollars taken directly out of public schools to fund vouchers. The bill would require a referendum to pass before voucher schools can take state aid out of a public school district. The 2015 state budget changed state law to divert state funding to voucher schools at a rate much higher per student than public schools receive.

The Week in Review

April 4

  • Broadband grants. The Senate voted unanimously in favor of a bill (SB 49) to change the criteria for broadband expansion grants and make $18.5 million more available. In advancing the bill, senators also amended it to ban providers from gathering information on customer use without permission. Just a day before, the president repealed rules to require companies to get such permission, including browsing history, financial and other information to create targeted ads.

    The grants, which are used to increase broadband access and capacity, now place a priority on projects that include matching funds, public-private partnerships, and areas with no service providers, among other things. The criteria that the grants promote economic development stress job growth or retention, expansion of the property tax base or improvement of the overall economic activity in an area. Also, the criteria pertaining to areas with no broadband service providers will be deleted. Instead, priority would be given to areas not served by a provider offering Internet service that meet two criteria, including a new standard for upload and download speeds. The bill also transfers $6 million from the universal service fund and $5 million in fed money in DOA’s federal e-rate appropriation to the grant program. It also repeals current limits of no more than $1.5 million in grants being issued in a year.

Don’t see something in the wrap-up? Looking for more information? Contact Christina Brey.

Educators have pointed questions for Governor Walker as he visits Milton High School

This letter was written by Michael Dorn, a math teacher at Milton High School and President of the Milton Education Association. It was published in the Janesville Gazette.

Michael Dorn

Today (April 6, 2017), Gov. Scott Walker is scheduled to visit Milton High School. The Milton Education Association has been a local leader opposing Walker’s policies that defund public education and divert badly needed funding from local schools to private voucher schools and private independent charter schools.

Nonetheless, the MEA welcomes the opportunity to demonstrate in Milton to the governor the true value of public education in providing outstanding opportunities for all students.

Despite the anti-union goals of Act 10, the MEA has forged a strong partnership with the Milton School Board and administration. Together, we have created a handbook and a compensation model that clearly demonstrates the high value of our teachers to both our students and our community.

Clearly, the Milton School District has suffered under the anti-public education policies of this administration. When the governor’s Act 10 was passed, public schools in Wisconsin saw decreased funding of $1.6 billion over two years. This year, the private school voucher program drained over $245 million from public schools statewide.

The MEA does support the proposed increase in per pupil state funding for 2017 to 2019. Nonetheless, Milton students (and public school students) continue to perform at or above achievement levels of private voucher schools and independent charter schools, despite the ability of those schools to hand pick their students and exclude students with special needs. The MEA is proud to be the representative of the outstanding public school educators that consistently achieve these results.

The governor will not be meeting with most teachers nor is he scheduled to take questions during his visit. However, questions that local teachers would like to ask him include:

  • “Governor, you have repeatedly said that the state cannot afford to fund public education at 2010 levels. If so, how can the state afford to fund a second system of private voucher schools along with traditional neighborhood public schools?”
  • “Why are we now funding pupils in private voucher schools, 75 percent of whom were previously attending private schools at no cost to the taxpayers?”
  • “Governor, you repeatedly said that Act 10 is working, yet a recent study shows the number students entering teacher-training programs in Wisconsin has declined 28 percent. How can fewer young people wanting to be teachers be a success and good for children?”

The MEA is proud to support public school education in Milton and elsewhere.

‘Voucher expansion not based on evidence,’ research brief concludes

This new WEAC Research Brief concludes that there is little evidence to substantiate the expansion of private voucher schools on the grounds that they are intended to help student achievement: “Research in Wisconsin and other states consistently shows little to no voucher school advantage, and in fact often documents significant ill-effects on students including: school closings, high rates of student attrition for lower-performing students, and decreased assessment scores in math and reading.”

WEAC Research Brief

School voucher proponents long maintained that the dynamic of consumer preference in education would result in improved student outcomes.  Yet after 25 years of voucher schools in Milwaukee, claims of increased student success are difficult to find.  Since its inception in 1990, the Milwaukee program expanded to include religious schools, students already attending private schools, and families with higher incomes than originally established for the program. Today, after more than $1 billion in funding, the Milwaukee voucher program stands as the state’s second largest system, and, recently, vouchers were expanded statewide.

A number of studies examined voucher schools here and nationally as well.  One of the most significant findings about the Milwaukee voucher program to date is that 41 percent of voucher schools failed since the program’s inception. Start-ups and unaffiliated voucher schools were the most likely to falter. The voucher program includes some well-established religious schools, but many fly-by-night operations were allowed to participate.[1]

Failed voucher schools include ones that stole tax dollars, closed mid-year, and refused to pay staff or provide textbooks for students.  Millions in tax dollars were wasted on schools that no longer exist. The academic effects of these school failures on thousands of participating students have not been measured.

Evidence from Milwaukee does not show improved student success

Where voucher schools are operating, evidence does not support the assertion that voucher mechanisms improve student achievement.  Voucher supporters funded a comprehensive five-year study of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) by the School Choice Demonstration Project. In the end, the researchers concluded:

No report . . . has found major differences in achievement test scores between MPCP students and similar MPS [Milwaukee Public Schools] students. The results . . . do not support a comprehensive conclusion that the MPCP necessarily provides a better learning environment than MPS.[2]

Peer-reviewed studies of the Milwaukee program later found evidence that lower- performing students left voucher schools in disproportionate numbers, and that schools with higher percentages of voucher students were more likely to lose students than other private schools in the program.  Another important finding was that children who left voucher schools experienced significant gains when they returned to public schools.

“In general, all students who transfer to the public sector realize significant achievement gains after doing so, although these gains are estimated to be larger for low-performing students than for their higher achieving peers.”[3]

“. . .  Former voucher students exhibit significant achievement increases in both reading and math after they transfer to the public schools. . . . In most cases, the magnitude of these estimates is substantial, comparing favorably to the effects of several well-known interventions, such as class size reduction.”[4]

Graduation rates

Proponents often assert that voucher students graduate at higher rates than public school students. The School Choice Demonstration Project analyzed graduation rates between matched groups of students in the MPCP and MPS. The finding, however, was based on just a partial sample of the original 9th grade MPCP cohort because information for remaining students could not be found, leading one reviewer to state:

Roughly 56% of the original sample of 801 MPCP 9th graders were not still enrolled in a MPCP high school in 12th grade. The inferences drawn about the effects of the MPCP on graduation rates compared with those in the MPS are severely clouded by substantial sample attrition.[5]

Assessing their own findings, the authors conceded: “These rates are calculated excluding unknowns from the denominator,” and that “If unknowns were to be included, the rates would obviously be lower.” About their results, the researchers ultimately concluded:

Ninth grade students who were in the MPCP in 2006-07 were more likely to graduate high school in 2009-10 than similar 9th grade students who were in MPS in 2006-07 . . . but the effects were not statistically significant.[6]

The strongest finding about graduation was that children who stayed in MPS for all four years, or children who stayed in the MPCP all four years, “were far more likely to graduate and enroll in college” than other students.[7]

Students who moved from one school to another, in other words, were less likely to attend higher education than non-moving peers—a finding which contradicts the very premise of choice that enhanced student mobility will improve educational outcomes.

Evidence from other states

A number of recent voucher studies in other states documented actual loss in academic achievement for participating students.

In Indiana, researchers found that “voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement” in mathematics, and also saw no improvement in reading.[8]

A comprehensive study of vouchers in Louisiana found “large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year.”[9]

Martin West, professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, called the negative effects in Louisiana “as large as any I’ve seen in the literature — not just compared with other voucher studies, but in the history of American education research.”[10]

In Ohio, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice, released a study of that state’s program which found:  “Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools.”[11]

In a major review of literature on voucher programs nationally, professor of education at Stanford University, Martin Carnoy, summarized:

“In the few cases in which test scores increased, other factors, namely increased public accountability, not private school competition, seem to be more likely drivers. And high rates of attrition from private schools among voucher users in several studies raises concerns. The second largest and longest-standing U.S. voucher program, in Milwaukee, offers no solid evidence of student gains in either private or public schools.”

“In the only area in which there is evidence of small improvements in voucher schools — in high school graduation and college enrollment rates — there are no data to show whether the gains are the result of schools shedding lower-performing students or engaging in positive practices.”[12]


Research in Wisconsin and other states consistently shows little to no voucher school advantage, and in fact often documents significant ill-effects on students including: school closings, high rates of student attrition for lower-performing students, and decreased assessment scores in math and reading. There is little evidence to substantiate the expansion of private voucher schools on the grounds that they are intended to help student achievement.

In fact, the larger idea that private schools are better than public schools in promoting academic achievement is open to significant debate.  Researchers from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana found public schools actually outperform private ones when comparisons control for student demographics.

Simple ranked comparisons of test scores show that private schools overall (not specific to voucher schools) outscore public schools, but to be meaningful comparisons must account for student differences, including the number of low-income students and those with special needs. Using results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, the researchers concluded:

When controlling for demographic factors, public schools are doing a better job academically than private schools. It seems that private school students have higher scores because they come from more affluent backgrounds, not because the schools they attend are better educational institutions.[13]

More recent studies from the Educational Testing Service, Notre Dame, and Stanford looked at the same data sets and came to similar conclusions. The authors posit that a stolid private school curriculum, varied teacher quality, and lack of professional development in current pedagogical techniques may account for the fact that private schools do not fare as well as public ones in helping students from different backgrounds.  In other words, evolutions in curriculum and practice may well contribute to the advantages that public schools provide students.



[1] Michael R. Ford and Fredrik O. Andersson, “Determinants of Organizational Failure in the Milwaukee School Voucher Program,” Policy Studies Journal, May 2016.

[2] School Choice Demonstration Project, “Student Attainment and the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program: Final Follow-up Analysis,” University of Arkansas, February 2012, p. 17.

[3] Deven Carlson, Joshua M. Cowen and David J. Fleming, “Life After Vouchers: What Happens to Students Who Leave Private Schools for the Traditional Public Sector?” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis (June 2013), p.193

[4] Carlson, Cowen and Fleming, “Life After Vouchers: What Happens to Students Who Leave Private Schools for the Traditional Public Sector?” p. 189.

[5] Casey Cobb, “Review of SCDP Milwaukee Evaluation Report #30,” National Education Policy Center, April 2012.

[6] School Choice Demonstration Project. “Student Attainment and the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program,” March 2011, pp. 6, i.

[7] School Choice Demonstration Project. “Student Attainment and the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program,” March 2011, p. i.

[8] Kevin Carey, “Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers,” New York Times, 2/23/2017.

[9] Education Research Alliance. “How has the Louisiana Scholarship Program Affected Students?” February 22, 2016; in Carey, Kevin. “Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers,” New York Times, 2/23/2017.

[10] Carey, Kevin. “Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers,” New York Times, 2/23/2017.

[11] Thomas B Fordham Institute. “Evaluation of Ohio’s EdChoice Program,” July 2016; in Carey, Kevin. “Dismal Voucher Results Surprise Researchers,” New York Times, 2/23/2017.

[12] Martin Carnoy. “School vouchers are not a proven strategy for improving student achievement,” Economic Policy Institute, February 28, 2017.

[13] Julia Ryan, “Are Private Schools worth it?” The Atlantic, October 18, 2013; Christopher Lubienski and Sarah Theule Lubienski. The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Ones, University of Chicago Press, 2013.