Expansion of unproven, unaccountable private school vouchers harms public schools and raises taxes, analysis finds

School voucher programs – including the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) – divert much-needed funding away from public schools when they are expanded, according to a new policy memo by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

The peer-reviewed memo, Assessing the Fiscal Impact of Wisconsin’s Statewide Voucher Program, examines the fiscal impact of the WPCP and how it affects public schools.

The analysis found that if WPCP were expanded, public school funding would decline and taxpayers would be burdened with extra costs. This report is timely because Wisconsin policymakers are looking at expanding WPCP to more students in the state of Wisconsin.

“This national research is worth paying attention to, and cautions other states not to go down the same road as Wisconsin in terms of unaccountable private school vouchers,” said WEAC President Ron Martin. “If policymakers are really interested in improving education, they should invest in the public schools that serve all students.”

The research outlines the sad reality: as the statewide program expands, the reduction to local school districts increase. The statewide program is already distributing tens of millions of dollars for private school tuition. The research expressly recommends Wisconsin not increase the income limit on the program to allow wealthier families to receive tuition subsidies – however that’s just what the governor’s budget signed in late September did.

“The available evidence suggests that policymakers across the country should think carefully before emulating Wisconsin’s statewide voucher program in their own states,” the author says.

While the policy memo acknowledges there is still more research that is needed, the memo urges policymakers to consider the repercussions of further transferring public school funding to private schools. There is limited evidence on the effectiveness of voucher programs. Despite the lack of proven results, voucher and voucher-like programs across the country continue to expand and grow.

The new policy memo found expanding the statewide Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) could worsen disparities in public school funding. It concludes:

  • Policymakers should think cautiously about whether the limited benefits of voucher programs outweigh the unintended consequences to our public schools.
  • Voucher and voucher-like programs divert much-needed funding from public schools and redirect it to private schools where, in some cases, there is little accountability or evidence to support expansion.
  • If state policymakers expand voucher programs, this could increase the tax burden of citizens, especially those living in rural communities and small school districts with fewer students.
  • Policymakers should focus on what already works, which is strengthening public schools and ensuring school districts have the resources they need to adequately prepare students for the future.
    • There is no clear evidence that demonstrates students who receive vouchers and attend private schools perform better than students who attend public schools.
    • Voucher programs, in most cases, do not empower low-income families to choose schools that they would not otherwise attend, since many voucher recipients have already attended private schools prior to receiving vouchers.
    • Many private schools do not provide special education or other services that public schools are required to provide, which is a significant cost for public schools.
  • To promote high-quality education and funding equity, the policy memo urges policymakers to carefully rethink expanding or replicating the WPCP.
    • The author of the policy memo recommends that Wisconsin policymakers maintain the income threshold for voucher program participation at 185 percent of the federal poverty level, instead of increasing it to the proposed 300 percent income limit.
    • To protect funding for public school districts, the author recommends keeping the enrollment cap at one percent in each district and using a lottery to determine participation.
    • Finally, the author recommends funding the WPCP through the state’s general-purpose revenue, paying for statewide school vouchers through state taxes instead of placing the burden on taxpayers living in communities where students receive vouchers.

“More than ever,” the analysis concludes, “many public schools struggle with inadequate funding. As voucher programs expand, this could mean less money for public schools in communities where students receive school vouchers to attend private schools.”

There are currently 33,775 students enrolled in Wisconsin’s school voucher programs. Two percent of students in each district could enroll in WPCP and the enrollment cap will expand by one percent through 2026 when the cap is eliminated. The memo found if the program expands, it could shift millions of dollars in public school funding to the WPCP and private schools.

Find the report on the Great Lakes Center website: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

This report can also found on the NEPC website: http://nepc.colorado.edu/

Americans’ confidence in public schools is growing

According to the recent PDK International survey, the percentage of Americans who give their community’s public schools an ‘A’ is at its highest in more than 40 years of PDK polling. Sixty-two percent of public school parents give public schools in their own communities an A or B grade (The percentage dips to 45% with nonparents). When parents grade their own child’s school, grades improve even more, to 71%.

Read more at NEA Today:

Survey: Americans’ Confidence in Public Schools Is Growing

It’s well-known that the American people generally have a more favorable opinion of institutions when viewed through a local, as opposed to a state or national, prism. Public schools are no exception. Most individuals give their neighborhood schools high marks but have a more negative assessment of the nation’s schools overall.

Corporate welfare TRUMPS students in Wisconsin

The Overpass Light Brigade held this message in Milwaukee last Saturday night (Photo credit: Joe Brusky).

Welcome to Wisconsin, where a multinational corporation can walk away with billions of public dollars while our school children go without books and necessary supplies. What a stark contrast this month, as kids across Wisconsin head back to school and teachers are scrambling to get donations for their students and classrooms.

Why is it that when our public schools are starving there is no money to be found, but when a corporation like Foxconn wants to set up shop, Scott Walker and GOP legislators can find $3 billion almost overnight? If Republicans would spend half that amount of energy advocating for our public schools, every child would have class sizes small enough for one-on-one attention, comfortable classrooms with air conditioning, after school programs, modern technology, science labs, art classrooms, and libraries.

In 2012 alone, our public schools faced the largest cuts since the great depression and they have not recovered. Educators foot the bill for science project supplies, classroom furniture, glue, and paper. School budgets are so tight that districts are making difficult decisions about what programs to cut, maintenance projects to defer, and which front-line educator positions must go unfilled.

Walker and the GOP are throwing $3 billion at a shady corporation with a history of broken promises and workers’ rights violations. Foxconn owners compare their workers to animals and the very presence of their factories is synonymous with riots, workers suicides, and violence. Three billion dollars – and the return for our communities (if it happens) won’t even begin until 2045. Just imagine that kind of investment in education. We could invest in our public schools, reverse the teacher shortage, and give opportunities to every child.

The MTEA is for job creation. We are for family sustaining, safe, unionized Wisconsin jobs–none of which are guaranteed with the current Foxconn deal. The only thing that we know for sure is that it will take nearly an entire generation for Wisconsin taxpayers get back the money spent on this deal.

Instead of funding the Foxconn deal, let’s fund our public schools and educators that inspire creative writers, avid mathematicians, influential scientists, and the leaders of our next generation.

We need fully funded public schools, not corporate welfare.

Kim Schroeder
MTEA President


New tax break for big-box stores could drain more money from public schools

An article published in Education Week examines how big-box stores are using “dark store theory” to reduce their property tax payments, and how that is threatening to drain more resources from our public schools. The trend – in which companies claim their stores should be assessed as if they were vacant – has become pronounced in Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.

The article cites the case of Menards suing to significantly reduce its tax payments in the Howard-Suamico School District north of Green Bay, and the impact of lost tax revenue on the district:

In the short term, said Matt Spets, the assistant superintendent for operations, the district could manage the lower revenue amount. In future years, however, Spets said, the district would have to ask residents to pay higher taxes or cut its budget by a corresponding amount if more retailers succeed in lowering their taxes. But residents may not be inclined to raise their taxes for schools: Last April, voters rejected a referendum that would have helped fund building upgrades, student support services and personnel costs.

“It’s not an ideal situation,” said Spets who noted that rural school districts are the most vulnerable.

Read the entire Education Week story:

Tax Breaks for Big-Box Stores Can Drain Money From Schools

Paying attention to how much nearby corporate retailers pay in property taxes may not be a priority for most school district leaders, but some policymakers think that could change soon. Across the country, retailers-in particular big-box stores-are pushing back on how local governments assess the value of their properties with the goal of lowering their tax bills.

Educators, parents express their love for public schools on Valentine’s Day

Educators and parents throughout the state celebrated Valentine’s Day Tuesday by expressing their love and support for public schools. WEAC President Ron Martin and Secretary-Treasurer Arlene Braden joined educators at Madison LaFollette High School at the start of the school day (the first five pictures), and WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen celebrated with educators at Lodi High School (the last three pictures).

February 13-17 is “I Love My Public School Week of Action,” a time when communities are showing their teachers, community, elected officials and decision-makers why they love their public schools!

Local associations participating in #ilovemypublicschool events include Marshfield, Sheboygan, Port Washington, West Salem, La Crosse, Waupun, Sun Prairie, Lodi, Deerfield, Cudahy, South Milwaukee, Shorewood, Madison, and Racine.


The ‘I Love My Public School’ Week of Action is February 13-17

From the Wisconsin Public Education Network

I-love-my-public-school-WEEK-OF-ACTION-1Show your teachers, community, elected officials and decision makers why you love your public school!


Click here to download a printable pdf of this guide with a selfie-template!

WHO: All Wisconsin parents, educators, & community members who support and appreciate public schools

WHEN: February 13-17, 2017 – with special focus on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14

WHERE: Every school district in Wisconsin

WHAT: A statewide effort to send the message “I love my public school!”

WHY: Because strong public schools are the heart of our communities, and we want to spread the love!

HOW: It’s easy! Just follow these four simple steps:

  1. BE THE LOVE. Hold one or more of the following events (or think of your own!) from February 13-17
    • Valentines: Send Valentine’s to the educators and staff in your school. Don’t forget administrators and your district office! Make a party of it by holding card-making parties with parent groups, student orgs, and other local teams. KEEP IT SIMPLE. The message is: I LOVE MY PUBLIC SCHOOL because….
    • Welcome Walks: Welcome staff and students to school (ideally on the morning of Valentine’s day but whenever works for your team/s) by lining the street/sidewalk with signs telling them why you love your local schools.
    • Special Events: invite speakers or hold a party to honor local difference-makers in your schools
    • Media Message: Write a letter to the editor or op-ed for your local paper sharing why you love your schools
    • Take a selfie with the I LOVE MY PUBLIC SCHOOL BECAUSE…sign on the back of this form. Share on social media.
    • Let local and state-level decision makers know you care!  When decision-makers see us making public schools a priority, they’ll know we want them to make public schools a priority, too. Let your legislators and local leaders know WHY you love your public school. Send your legislators a Valentine (or better yet, deliver one in person!), sharing the reasons why you love your public schools.
    • SPECIAL DELIVERY EVENT! Let decision makers know how much YOUR community loves its public schools! JOIN US ON MONDAY FEBRUARY 13 AT 12:30 pm (after the WPEN meeting) on the Capitol steps (State Street entrance) to deliver Valentines to the Governor and our legislators as a group. RSVP here to join us.
    • Use #ILoveMyPublicSchool *and* #ILove_______PublicSchools [insert your city/district here] SHARE photos, reports, posts and testimonials on all social media platforms. Tag your district/teachers/staff and send the love out.
    Let us know your plan & tag us in your posts to get your actions on the map! Wisconsin Public Education Network will regularly update a love-map at http://www.WisconsinNetwork.org/blog/i-love-my-public-school-week to show where people around the state have been giving love to their public schools.

Eskelsen García helps U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan launch Public Education Caucus

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García joined U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) and other public education supporters Tuesday to announce the launch of a Congressional Public Education Caucus to support the goals of public education under Donald Trump’s presidency and to oppose the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary.

“Making large political contributions to Donald Trump and countless other politicians and organizations aimed at dismantling public education does not count as a qualification for the position of the head of the Department of Education,” Pocan said.

“Betsy DeVos is a danger to students, especially our most vulnerable students,” Eskelsen García said.

According to HuffingtonPost.com, Rep. Mark Takano (D-California), who spent over two decades as a public school teacher and is part of the caucus, said at the press conference that DeVos’ lack of experience gives her an “incredibly narrow view of public education in America.”

“She will insert a profit motive into children’s education that will cripple our public schools and punish the millions of students who attend them every day,” Takano said. “Betsy DeVos will create a race to the bottom line.”

Pocan and Takano were joined on by several House Democrats along with Eskelsen García, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten and Council of Great City Schools legislative services director Jeff Simering.

Here is a collection of web stories, Facebook posts and Tweets covering the news conference:

NEA to new Congress: Now is time to renew commitment to public education

Lily Eskelsen García: Congress can put students and families ahead of partisan politics

eskelsen_garcia_new_congress_2017_350pxThe National Education Association and its 3 million members are urging the 115th U.S. Congress to renew its commitment to students and public education, to govern by putting families ahead of partisan politics, and to resist the temptation to undermine the American vision of public education.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen García issued the following statement:

“On behalf of the 3 million members of the National Education Association, I congratulate the members of the 115th Congress. With the election behind us, now is the time for Congress to put students and families ahead of partisan politics in order to get the work done on behalf of the American people.

“This is important because we believe all children, regardless of family circumstances or ZIP code, have the right to a public education that helps them reach their full potential and does not depend on living in advantaged circumstances, getting accepted by a private school or winning a charter school lottery. Our doors are open to all. Every student deserves the best our country can offer.

“Congress can start that process by renewing its commitment to the American vision of public education — one which welcomes and includes students of all backgrounds, identities, origins and abilities. We offer this keeping in mind the bipartisanship our nation saw during the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which produced the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). In passing ESSA, Congress acted with the best interests of all students in mind — and now it should allow states and local communities the room to effectively implement it and avoid slashing or diverting the resources that help make that possible.

“We also challenge Congress to take a bold stand against efforts by ideologues, corporations, billionaires and hedge fund managers to undermine and privatize public education and harm our students. Lawmakers have to resist the temptation to substitute the will of special interests for the experience and expertise of educators, the ones who know the names and faces of the students across the country.

“We urge Congress — Democrats, Republicans, Independents — to value and support this vision for a strong and inclusive public education system that ensures that all students can succeed. We look forward to working with all lawmakers who are willing to renew their commitment to public education, who will fulfill the promise of ESSA, and who will stand up for students and working families.”

Wisconsin graduation rate among best in the nation

From the Department of Public Instruction

happy  young graduate students group throwing the hatPreliminary data from the U.S. Department of Education shows Wisconsin’s 2014 public school graduation rate (88.6 percent) is among the highest in the nation.

Wisconsin ranked third nationwide; tied with New Jersey. Iowa was first with a graduation rate of 90.5 percent, followed by Nebraska at 89.7 percent. The preliminary data also show that 36 states, including Wisconsin, saw increases in their overall four-year graduation rates, while six states had declines and another eight states had no change since 2012-13. Wisconsin’s 2014 graduation rate was six-tenths of a point higher than the prior year.

“The tireless commitment of educators to their students is the driving force behind the continued success of public schools,” said Betsy Kippers, Racine teacher and WEAC President. “Teachers and support staff have gone above and beyond to ensure student success in a time when the governor and lawmakers have slashed funding for public schools while slipping tens of millions of dollars to private outfits and the wealthy.

“Closing gaps relies on providing opportunity no matter where children live. If we’re serious about solutions, Wisconsin needs fresh approaches such as community schools, not school takeovers and more testing. Students need time and resources to learn. Teachers need supportive leaders, proper funding and respect that keeps them in our schools for the long haul.”

“Our 2014 graduates and their teachers deserve our celebration and praise,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers. “It is their hard work, along with support from parents, school staff, and the community, that make educational success, and especially high school graduation, the goal for every student.”

While the state’s graduation rate for all students ranks near the top of the nation, gaps persist among racial subgroups. According to the preliminary data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), Wisconsin has the biggest gap between white and black students nationally. Rates have increased for all racial and ethnic groups between 2013-14 and 2009-10.

“Last year, I presented the recommendations of my Promoting Excellence for All Task Force, comprised of educators who have demonstrated success closing achievement gaps in their local communities,” Evers said. “This fall, we added more strategies that educators and families can use to help close gaps thanks to the work of my Parent Advisory Council. Closing achievement gaps remain my top focus, but it is a trend that cannot be reversed overnight. The work we do on important social issues like this are a labor of love that require family and community involvement supported by targeted investments in what works. But the bottom line is that as the diversity of our student population continues to grow, we can no longer afford to see gaps between our white and non-white students.”

The NCES is expected to release final graduation rate data for the class of 2014 — including the nation’s newest graduation rate — in the coming months. The nation’s 2013 graduation rate was 81 percent, the highest rate ever.

Since 2010, NCES has required all states to use an adjusted cohort graduation rate. Under the federal graduation rate definition, each student is assigned to a cohort when entering high school, the 2010-11 school year for the class of 2014. The cohort is adjusted for students who transfer to another state or nonpublic school, emigrate from the United States to another country, or die during the timeframe. The graduation rate is based on students who earn a regular high school diploma in four years.

Wisconsin’s adjusted cohort graduation rate for the class of 2014 was the highest it’s been since using that method for computing the four-year graduation rate. The state also calculates five-year and six-year graduation rates to account for students who, by state and federal law, have additional time to complete their high school education. For the 2013-14 school year, the five-year graduation rate was 91.3 percent and the six-year rate, 91.5 percent.

MTEA member Mai Xiong is Wisconsin Elementary School Teacher of the Year

State Superintendent Tony Evers presents AAL educator Mai Xiong with the 2015 Wisconsin Elementary Teacher of the Year.

State Superintendent Tony Evers presents AAL educator Mai Xiong with the 2015 Wisconsin Elementary Teacher of the Year.

First-grade teacher and MTEA member Mai Xiong was named Wisconsin Elementary School Teacher of the Year in a surprise ceremony today at MPS’ Academy of Accelerated Learning (AAL).

State Superintendent Tony Evers told students and staff who were gathered for the assembly, “All great schools have one thing in common: great teachers. One of the star teachers in our state is here at AAL. Please help me welcome and honor the 2015 Elementary Teacher of the Year, Mai Xiong.”

MTEA president Kim Schroeder recognized and congratulated Xiong, presenting her with an MTEA tote bag and an MTEA “standing strong” t-shirt.

As Xiong accepted the award, she acknowledged her students and colleagues. “Every day I come to school, I see smiles, I see children who are eager to learn. I give credit to all of my colleagues. They have helped me develop into the teacher that I am today. This award is not only my award, it’s the award of all the children here as well as all my colleagues.”

Looking out into the audience, Xiong realized that her parents and other relatives were also present to celebrate the occasion, and recognized the importance of their support as well.

Xiong began her teaching career at MPS’ Story School in 1998, and has been at AAL since 1999. As someone for whom English was a second language, she is passionate about improving education for children who are English language learners. She also stresses the importance of integrating parents into their children’s education: “I believe a student’s number one teacher is the parent, and educational success is most achievable when there is evident teamwork between parents, teachers, and community.”

After the award ceremony, Xiong said, “I never thought I would receive an award for doing what I love.”

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