Committee OKs voucher measure that will cost public schools $14.2 million

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The Assembly Education Committee Wednesday adopted a voucher school measure that will cost public schools an additional $14.2 million in the first year.

Under the amendment, districts with resident students in the statewide or Racine voucher programs will lose revenue limit authority and will likely have to pay for voucher students by reducing educational opportunities for the children that remain in their districts. WEAC strongly opposes this proposal.

The vote on Assembly Amendment 3 to Assembly Bill 751 was 9-5.  The Committee then passed AB 751 as amended on a party line vote with Republicans voting to pass the bill. The bill will now likely move on for an Assembly floor vote Tuesday, February 16th.

Cyberlobby Now!

Under this amendment, in the first year of this plan, 142 school districts in the Racine and Wisconsin Parental Choice Programs are estimated to lose a total of $14.2 million. That’s on top of frozen revenue limits in both years of the current state budget. The Republicans say school districts that have restrictions placed on their revenue caps under this amendment will be “made whole” after new voucher students enroll in the program. However, analysis shows districts won’t likely be able to make up for this revenue loss and will instead face big problems every year.

“When Republican leaders voted to drastically increase tax subsidies for private schools in the 2015-17 budget, they promised opportunities for public school students wouldn’t suffer,” said Betsy Kippers, a Racine teacher and president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. “It looks like our students have been double-crossed.

“Wisconsin has already fallen below the national average in public school funding and this proposal would take millions more from public school students to subsidize private school tuition,” she continued. “Meanwhile, 60 communities including Oshkosh, Portage and beyond are forced to go to referendum to make up for lost revenue. If Wisconsin is serious about improving schools, we must stop dumping more subsidies into a separate, failing school voucher system and instead invest in local public schools that provide opportunity to all students.”

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Private schools line up for public cash through unaccountable school voucher program

This One Wisconsin Now news release summarizes the growth of – and damage caused by – private school vouchers in Wisconsin under Governor Walker and the Republican Legislature:

Private Schools Line Up for Public Cash Through Unaccountable School Voucher Program

Gov. Walker and GOP Set to Divert Even More Money from Public Schools in 2016

NoSchoolVouchers_150pxAccording to the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI), more private schools are seeking to cash in with public tax dollars during the 2016-17 school year through the unaccountable school voucher program. Under Governor Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature, state law has been changed to allow state school aid to be diverted away from local K-12 public schools to provide tuition vouchers for qualifying students attending private and religious schools. DPI reports that a total of 135 private and religious schools have registered to participate.

One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross commented, “The appalling attacks on public education by Governor Walker and his Republican cohorts in the Legislature roll on. In the next school year even more private and religious schools are coming with hands out to take funding directly away from our local K-12 public schools.”

The private school voucher program, originally limited to the Milwaukee area, has been dramatically expanded under Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature. Private and religious schools statewide are now allowed to participate and receive public tax dollars to pay for students’ tuition. Under the provisions in the 2015 state budget, funds for the voucher program will now come directly out of funds that would have otherwise gone to local K-12 public schools.

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), the voucher program is estimated to cost Wisconsin taxpayers over $1.1 billion between 2011 and the end of the current two-year budget cycle in 2017. Meanwhile, public education in Wisconsin has suffered some of the largest budget cuts in the nation, with the LFB reporting that K-12 public school funding has been cut by just over $1 billion when compared to funding levels in the 2010-11 school year, before Walker and Republicans took control of state government.

Information from the DPI suggests that while the scope of the voucher program has been dramatically expanded, those receiving tuition vouchers were already attending private schools. Nearly 80 percent of students participating in the statewide expansion of the voucher program were not previously in public schools and nearly 75 percent were already attending a private school.

Ross noted that powerful special interests are lobbying for increasing education privatization and pro-voucher mega-donors from across the country have larded Republican politicians with campaign contributions. Recently updated research by One Wisconsin Institute exposed the Bradley Foundation, headed by Walker’s gubernatorial and ill-fated presidential campaign chair, as a leading player in the campaign to gut public education and promote the unaccountable, radical privatization of K-12 education. The Milwaukee-based group gave over $108 million from 2005 to 2014 to organizations, think tanks, journalists and right-wing academics participating in a massive propaganda campaign in support of education privatization.

“Right-wing ideologues are willing to spend big money on their agenda that undermines local public schools and shifts public tax dollars into their unaccountable education privatization experiment. And it’s the children and taxpayers of Wisconsin paying the price for Governor Walker and Republican legislators selling us and our public schools out to the special interests,” concluded Ross.

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Plan to pull $22 million from public schools sidetracked but may return

A move is afoot to defund public schools to the amount of $22 million. In a stealth maneuver, a last-minute amendment was offered to a technical bill dealing with special needs vouchers, AB 751.  The amendment, clearly not germane to the bill, would change the school funding formula to strip away $22 million in revenue limit authority for those school districts with voucher students. This would be a devastating blow to our neighborhood public schools and the students they serve. Once the truth was revealed about the amendment and its impact, the Assembly Education Committee pulled back the bill on Thursday, but it will likely be resurrected soon.

Contact your legislators today and urge them to reject any amendments to AB 751 that would defund neighborhood public schools!

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Proposed change to public school revenue limits could cost schools $22 million

135 private schools register for taxpayer-funded vouchers

From the Department of Public Instruction

Betsy Kippers

Betsy Kippers

“The voucher floodgates are wide open as unaccountable private schools take tens of millions of dollars from students in neighborhood public schools,” said WEAC President Betsy Kippers.

“Wisconsin has fallen behind the national average in public school spending. Throughout the state, school boards in communities like Oshkosh and Portage are forced to go to referendum to make up for the lost revenue.

“If Wisconsin is serious about improving schools, we must stop expanding this failing voucher program and instead invest in public schools that provide opportunity to all students, regardless of their zip codes.”

One-hundred-thirty-five private nonsectarian and religious schools and school systems registered with the Department of Public Instruction by the January 10 deadline to accept students for the 2016-17 school year through the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP). Twenty-three schools that previously participated in either the Milwaukee or Racine Parental Choice programs or both are registering to join the WPCP for the first time in 2016-17. In addition, there are 31 new private schools applying to participate in the statewide voucher program.

The WPCP allows students who reside outside of the Milwaukee and Racine Unified school districts to use a taxpayer-funded subsidy to attend participating private or religious schools. To qualify for the program in the 2016-17 school year, a new student must have a family income equal to or less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $45,263 for a family of four or $52,263 if the child’s parents or guardians are married. In addition, all students applying for the WPCP must meet one of the following attendance requirements for 2016-17: (1) have attended a public school in Wisconsin in the prior school year; (2) not have been enrolled in school in the prior school year; (3) applying to attend kindergarten, first, or ninth grades for the coming school year; or (4) participated in the WPCP or Racine Parental Choice Program (RCPC) in the 2015-16 school year.

Eligible students in grades kindergarten through eight may attend the private school with no charge for tuition. Eligible students continuing in grades nine through 12 may be charged tuition if their family income exceeds 220 percent of the federal poverty level ($53,826 for a family of four or $60,826 if the child’s parents or guardians are married). The private school, on behalf of each student’s parent or guardian, under current law, receives a state aid payment for each eligible choice student.

The amount of the voucher for 2016-17 is estimated to be $7,323 (for pupils in grades K-8) or $7,969 (for pupils in grades 9-12). A private choice school is not required to provide transportation to choice students. According to state law, the resident public school district may be required to provide transportation under certain circumstances. More information is available at http://dpi.wi.gov/sms/transportation.

Parents who wish to enroll their children in a private or religious school participating in the statewide voucher program for the 2016-17 school year must complete the online application between February 1 and April 20, 2016, on the following web site: http://dpi.wi.gov/SMS/choice-programs/student-applications. After completing the online application, parents must provide residency and income (if applicable) documentation to the school(s) they apply to before the close of the application period at 4 p.m. on April 20.

A change to state law in 2015 eliminated the previous WPCP cap of 1,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) students. Enrollment in the WPCP voucher program in 2016-17 remains limited to 1 percent of a given school district’s student population. The 2015-17 state budget (2015 Wisconsin Act 55) changed the manner in which the WPCP is funded. Students that participated in the program prior to the 2015-16 school year will continue to be fully funded from state general purpose revenue. Pupils who begin attending a private school under the WPCP in the 2015-16 school year and thereafter are funded with a reduction to each public school district’s state general aid. If the public school district does not receive an equalization aid payment sufficient to cover the aid reduction, the balance would be reduced from other state aid received by the district. Incoming pupils in the WPCP are included in the resident public school district’s membership for state general aid purposes, but the resident district may not levy to backfill the aid reduction. School districts will receive an annual adjustment equivalent to the number of resident choice pupils for revenue limit purposes.

For the current school year’s third Friday in September enrollment count, the statewide voucher program had 2,514 students (2,472.5 FTE). The WPCP began in the 2013-14 school year. Taxpayer costs for the 2014-15 school year were $7.3 million. Since inception and through last school year, payments to private and religious schools in Wisconsin for the statewide voucher program total $10,557,520.

A list of schools that plan to participate in the WPCP for the 2016-17 school year follows. Schools marked with an asterisk (*) will be new to the WPCP in fall 2016. Schools new to the program for fall must obtain pre- accreditation by August 1, 2016 (if they are not already fully accredited). Prior to being eligible to receive voucher payments from the state, schools must, by May 1, submit information regarding their budget. They must also submit, by August 1, documentation of their insurance coverage and certain school policies.

Find the complete list of schools registered to participate, by county, in the 2016-17 voucher program here.

Green Bay public schools send $1 million to private voucher schools against taxpayer wishes

schoolhouse_steal_Press_Gazette_600x314px

“2015 was a tough year for public education in Green Bay,” citizen Kathryn Carley writes in a letter to the editor of the Green Bay Press Gazette. “More than $1 million was siphoned from the Green Bay School District to pay for state lawmakers’ expansion of the private school voucher program. This despite the majority of Wisconsin parents saying they did not want their public tax dollars to pay for private and religious schools, which are unaccountable to the public.”

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Public schools face more challenges in 2016

Bradley Foundation has spent over $108 million to support education privatization

In recent years, the unaccountable private school voucher program dramatically expanded in Wisconsin while state public schools suffered the 4th largest budget cuts in the nation. What’s the explanation for the shift in priorities when, according to independent studies, vouchers fail to produce any significant increase in student achievement? Updated research from One Wisconsin Institute exposing the right-wing Bradley Foundation’s spending over $108 million in support of education privatization from 2005 to 2014 provides some answers.

From One Wisconsin Now

PisForPayoff

“The Bradley Foundation supports the radical privatization of public schools in Wisconsin and across the nation,” said One Wisconsin Institute Executive Director Scot Ross. “And it seems there’s no limit to how much they will pay to try to get their way, spending over $108 million between 2005 and 2014 to buy the help of over 130 organizations.”

Key findings of the updated “P Is For Payoff” report include:

  • Bradley Foundation head Michael Grebe, a political insider who chaired Gov. Walker’s presidential and gubernatorial campaigns, continues to orchestrate a massive propaganda campaign to advance the privatization of public education.
  • An analysis of IRS Form 990 records and Bradley Foundation reports reveals over 130 organizations supportive of their education privatization agenda and working to advance their cause have received over $108 million from 2005 through 2014.
  • Bradley’s tactics have continued to evolve, now featuring litigation to advance their privatization agenda and intimidate opponents. Leading the effort is the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty which since its inception in 2011 has been larded with over $2 million from Bradley.
  • According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the voucher program will cost Wisconsin taxpayers over $1.1 billion from 2011 through the end of the 2015-17 budget cycle. Meanwhile, a new report found that Wisconsin schools have suffered the 4th biggest cuts in in the nation through 2014.

Original research by One Wisconsin Institute in 2013 first exposed the Bradley Foundation as a leading player in the campaign to gut public education and promote the unaccountable, radical privatization of K-12 education. The Milwaukee-based group spent millions to support organizations, think tanks, journalists and right-wing academics. They engaged in a campaign that manufactured a crisis, singled out their enemies, generated a cure, justified their scheme with pseudo-science, broadcast their message through the media, helped elect politicians to advance their agenda and kept them in line with high-powered lobbyists and well-funded pressure campaigns.

Ross concluded, “Wisconsin families and public schools are left paying the price as billions of dollars that could have been used for public education are siphoned off for the Bradley Foundation’s ideologically driven experiment. Until a majority of policy makers are willing to stand up to the Bradley Foundation’s millions, Wisconsin’s tradition of great public schools will remain under assault.”

 

Despite 25 years of failing our families, taxpayer-funded vouchers coming to your school district, Congressman Mark Pocan warns

In a column published on Madision365.com, Congressman Mark Pocan writes that, “In recent years, Wisconsin’s taxpayer-funded voucher program has wasted taxpayer dollars and harmed our public schools, but that’s not stopping Republican legislators from expanding this failed program.”

He continues: “In many places, voucher programs began with a honorable intent – give low-income families in tough school districts access to the private school system. That is clearly no longer the case. Now, vouchers are being aggressively pursued by shady lobbying outfits, such as the notorious American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which seeks to take curriculum and financial control away from public accountability.”

Read the entire column:

Despite 25 Years of Failing Our Families, Taxpayer-Funded Vouchers Coming To Your School District – Madison365

In recent years, Wisconsin’s taxpayer-funded voucher program has wasted taxpayer dollars and harmed our public schools, but that’s not stopping Republican legislators from expanding this failed program. In many places, voucher programs began with a honorable intent – give low-income families in tough school districts access to the private school system.

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Teachers at California’s largest online charter school unionize

Historic state ruling supports teachers’ ongoing efforts to improve the learning conditions at the largest provider of online education in California

From the California Teachers Association

A state agency’s decision will give 750 teachers at California’s largest virtual charter school operator a stronger voice in improving working conditions and student learning. The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) decision comes at a critical time and promises to provide momentum for the teachers’ on-going efforts to fix the state’s broken online school industry.

California Virtual Academies (CAVA) teachers serve 15,000 students. They’re hailing the ruling that means their 17-month wait to get to the bargaining table and fix their school is over.

“We are elated,” said Sarah Vigrass, a 9-year CAVA Community Day teacher in Redlands. “We applaud the decision, and we look forward to sitting down and negotiating as soon as possible over much-needed improvements for teachers and the students we serve. Our students’ learning conditions would improve if more resources were focused on them. There are many problems and now we have a real way to fix them.”

Last Spring a super-majority of teachers at CAVA asked the employer to recognize the California Teachers Association (CTA) as their exclusive bargaining representative. The teachers sought to unionize to improve working conditions and advocate for improved educational experiences in their virtual school. In an effort to thwart the grassroots organizing, the employer rejected the teachers’ request for voluntary recognition which forced them into a protracted hearing before PERB. In a 77-page decision, the Administrative Law Judge concluded that the 11-school CAVA is one bargaining unit and certified CTA as the exclusive representative of all.

Concerned CAVA teachers have been calling for improvements at their school for years.   In March, 2015 they shared their experiences in an in depth study of CAVA released by In the Public Interest that called for better oversight of the school. In June they filed complaints with school districts that authorized CAVA charters throughout California in an effort to protect students. Last week, new research from Stanford University and the University of Washington came out reinforcing many of the concerns CAVA teachers have voiced.

Eric Heins, president of the 325,000-member California Teachers Association, said the ruling is a vindication for CAVA teachers’ long battle to fix their school.

“Efforts by the employer to derail the work of these teachers to have a stronger voice so they can better advocate for their students were just a smokescreen, and now the smoke has cleared,” Heins said. “The ruling by PERB clears the way for negotiations toward a first contract that will address some of the many concerns that CAVA teachers have voiced. Now, these teachers can begin to address the problems that are hurting their students, such as insufficient time spent on instruction, high teacher turnover, and too much public money going out of state.”

Heins noted that these educators have endured intimidation and worse as they have fought to unite for a better future for their students.

“Instead of appealing this historic ruling, the employer should do the right thing and join the teachers to find solutions. We expect management to respect these educators and work with them at the bargaining table to make CAVA better for the sake of our students.”

K12 California, CAVA’s operator and primary vendor, is a subsidiary of K12 Inc., a publicly-traded education company based in Virginia. K12 Inc. is the nation’s largest provider of online education and operates schools in 33 states. The company produced $55 million in profit in 2014. In the 2013-14 school year, more than $100 million in state education funding flowed to CAVA to serve about 15,000 California students, and 50 percent of that funding was then paid to K12 Inc. for its services. CAVA schools receive the same per-pupil state funding as brick and mortar schools.

“Now that we are union, front-line educators will have a real voice in decisions that impact our students,” said elementary school teacher Rebecca Flynn from the East Bay. “This is a big step forward in our effort to improve CAVA to better serve California’s kids. We look forward to finally working with administration to tackle the real problems and make CAVA better. There is no time to lose.”

Study finds online charter school students falling behind their peers

Innovative new research suggests that students of online charter schools had significantly weaker academic performance in math and reading, compared with their counterparts in conventional schools.

The National Study of Online Charter Schools offers a rigorous analysis of the operations of online charter schools, their policy environments, and their impacts on student achievement. Conducted by three independent research institutions, the study is the most comprehensive examination of online charter schools to date.

According to the Washington Post, the study “is  nothing short of damning — even though it was at least partly funded by a private pro-charter  foundation. It effectively says that the average student who attends might as well not enroll.”

The Post cited these key findings:

  • Students in online charters lost an average of about 72 days of learning in reading.
  • Students in online charters lost 180 days of learning in math during the course of a 180-day school year, suggesting it’s as if the students did not attend school at all when it comes to math.
  • The average student in an online charter had lower reading scores than students in traditional schools everywhere except Wisconsin and Georgia, and had lower math scores everywhere except in Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin.

“There’s still some possibility that there’s positive learning, but it’s so statistically significantly different from the average, it is literally as if the kid did not go to school for an entire year,” said CREDO’s founding director, Margaret Raymond, who served as project director.

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One of our  Facebook participants had this to say:

As a high school counselor I ran into many students and parents who wanted to withdraw from the public school and go to an online school. In the 16 years I worked as a counselor I only had one instance in which the student was successful, and ended up earning high school diploma. In every other case the students usually came back to the high school where I worked and were even worse off than they had been before. I always tried to talk parents and students out of attempting online schooling, since most of them did it for the wrong reasons, usually because the student had been in trouble for truancy or behavior. Over the years I was successful in dissuading the parents and students from enrolling in online school based on the anecdotal experiences I had seen. Now this article provides information that backs up what I have been saying all along. I retired 2 years ago and it’s now really good to see empirical support for my experiences.

Private school voucher enrollment more than doubles

The lifting of the enrollment cap on Wisconsin’s statewide private school voucher program has caused enrollment to more than double, according to figures released Tuesday by the Department of Public Instruction. DPI reported that 2,514 students were enrolled in a voucher school this year, up from 1,008 students last year when the cap was in place.

From the Department of Public Instruction:

VoucherEnrollmentThe Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has announced enrollment information related to private school voucher students in the statewide Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP).

On the third Friday in September of the 2015-16 school year, there were 2,514 students receiving a voucher to attend a private school, which translates to 2,472.5 full-time equivalent (FTE) students. In most cases, one student counts as one FTE, but depending on services provided, a 4-year-old kindergarten (K4) student attending a partial day program may be counted as 0.5 FTE or 0.6 FTE. Of the 1,640 new students enrolled in the WPCP for the 2015-16 school year, 19.1 percent (306.1 FTE) attended a public school last year.

While there are 82 private schools or school systems participating in the statewide choice program in the 2015-16 school year, 79 of those schools have enrolled students using a voucher through the WPCP. Changes to state law recently eliminated the previous WPCP cap of 1,000 FTE students. Enrollment in the WPCP voucher program in 2015-16 from a single public school district is limited to 1 percent of the school district’s student population. Enrollment numbers reported are from the student count conducted on the third Friday in September at each school. Student eligibility will be reviewed by independent auditors per state law and submitted to the DPI in December, so enrollment numbers are subject to change.

For the 2015-16 school year, each eligible private school participating in the WPCP may receive a voucher payment of $7,214 per FTE student in grades K4 through eight, or $7,860 per FTE student in grades nine through 12. The WPCP is estimated to cost $18.3 million in 2015-16.

Act 55 (Wisconsin 2015-17 Biennial Budget) changed the manner in which the WPCP is funded. Students that participated in the program prior to the 2015-16 school year will continue to be fully funded from state general purpose revenue. Pupils who begin attending a private school under the WPCP in the 2015-16 school year and thereafter are funded with a reduction to each public school district’s state general aid. If the public school district does not receive an equalization aid payment sufficient to cover the aid reduction, the balance would be reduced from other state aid received by the district. The 142 districts impacted by the WPCP will share an aid reduction of $11.9 million. Incoming pupils in the

WPCP are included in resident public school district’s membership for state general aid purposes, but the resident district may not levy to backfill the aid reduction. School districts receive a non-recurring revenue limit exemption, which the district’s elected school board may include when setting the 2016 tax levy. The exemption is computed by multiplying the number of FTE resident choice pupils by the district’s current year per pupil revenue limit. For 2016, the estimated statewide revenue limit authority for the 142 school districts impacted by the WPCP is $15.8 million.

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