Voucher program enrollment up 8.7 percent, cost soars to $302 million

Wisconsin Public Education Network graphic

Enrollment in Wisconsin’s three taxpayer-funded private school voucher programs rose 8.7 percent this year, while the cost soared 12.3 percent to $302 million, according to a report released Tuesday by the Department of Public Instruction.

Across the three programs (Milwaukee, Racine and statewide), 39,381 students received a voucher to attend one of the 279 participating private schools. That is an increase of 3,164 students and 43 schools compared to last school year.

The cost of the three programs combined is estimated at $302 million for the 2018-19 school year, which is an increase of about $33 million (12.3 percent) from the prior year.

For the 2018-19 school year, voucher payments are $7,754 per full-time equivalent in grades kindergarten through eight and $8,400 per FTE for students enrolled in grades nine through 12. That compares to $5,001 per student on average for public school students in  Wisconsin.

Enrollments in the three programs are:

  • The Milwaukee program enrolls 28,917 students in 129 participating private schools this year.
  • The Wisconsin Parental Choice Program enrolls 7,140 students in 213 private schools.
  • The Racine program enrolls 3,324 students in 26 participating private schools.

Read more from the Department of Public Instruction (pdf file).

$269 million in taxpayer money has been given to private voucher schools so far this biennium

Democrats on the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee released a memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau Tuesday revealing that private voucher schools in Wisconsin have received $269.6 million in state funding so far in the 2017-19 biennium, while public schools have seen a $90.6 million reduction in state aid. The memo also showed that:

  • Approximately $475 million of taxpayer dollars were paid to voucher schools over the 2015-17 biennium, during which time public schools in those districts faced a $150 million aid reduction.
  • Private school voucher programs in Wisconsin have already received over $2.5 billion [$2,576,900,000 approx.] in total state funding, and that number is only growing.

The Democrats released the figures in a news release in which they stated:

“As our children go back to school, we want the best for them and their bright futures. But Republicans have funneled millions of tax dollars to unaccountable voucher schools while our K-12 public schools continue to go to referendum just to keep the lights on,” said Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point). “Instead of funneling tax dollars to private schools, the Legislature should fairly fund our public schools so that everyone in Wisconsin has the same opportunity to learn and succeed.”

“Taxpayers have the right to know how much of their hard earned dollars are going toward voucher schools, especially since voucher schools are not required to meet the same accountability standards as public schools and have shown no significant improvements over public school performance,” said Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton).

“Access to a quality education should not depend on your zip code. Unfortunately, eight years of misplaced Republican priorities have made it impossible to ensure our public schools can meet and exceed our standards for educational excellence. We must invest in our public education system so that all of our children have equal access to the best educational opportunities – it’s what they deserve,” said Sen. LaTonya Johnson (D-Milwaukee).

“As a mother of two children in public school and a member of the budget committee, I hear from people across our state who question why my Republican colleagues and Governor Walker are creating a second, private school system while not adequately and consistently funding the public school system where most of our Wisconsin children are educated,” said Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison). “Republicans’ big campaign donors want to privatize public education to make a buck, and they are willing to destroy our public school system to do so. People should be outraged by their disregard for the 870,000 children in public schools, whose future, and our state’s future, depends on a strong public school system.”

A copy of the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo can be found here.

Private school voucher backers top $7.5 million in donations to Wisconsin politicians

From One Wisconsin Now

With the latest round of state campaign finance reports in, backers of the private school voucher program have larded the campaign accounts of politicians willing to do their bidding with $7.5 million in campaign contributions since 2008. Leading the pack, and hauling in more than 1 of every 4 dollars donated, is Governor Scott Walker with a total take in excess of $2.165 million.

“The people writing these checks want to see more private school vouchers,” said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross. “Scott Walker has more than delivered, draining resources away from public K-12 schools and sending them to the less accountable private voucher schools favored by the donors who’ve dumped over $2 million into his campaign coffers.”

Under Walker and the GOP controlled legislature there has been a dramatic, statewide expansion of the less accountable private school voucher program. Vouchers take resources directly away from public schools to help pay for it even though the majority of students who enrolled in the expanded program were already attending private schools.

On top of the contributions sent directly to candidates, the American Federation for Children (AFC), a pro-voucher special interest group closely associated with Donald Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has spent over $5 million to help its favored politicians in Wisconsin.

In addition, as uncovered by One Wisconsin Now, the Milwaukee based Bradley Foundation, which was overseen by Walker’s campaign chair Michael Grebe, spent over $108 million in support of groups helping to advance the education privatization agenda Walker favors between 2005 and 2014.

Special needs voucher program costs taxpayers $5.6 million, reduces aid to public schools, report says

The Wisconsin program that allows children with special needs to attend private schools at taxpayer expense cost the state $5.6 million in “scholarships” in its first two years, and diverted $4.1 million in needed state aid away from 25 local public school districts, according to a new audit from the Legislative Audit Bureau. Milwaukee Public Schools alone lost more than $2.6 million in state aid because of the program.

In addition, an analysis of the report by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says the report “confirmed what many critics had feared: that it would serve primarily children already in private schools and leave children with the greatest needs to the public schools.”

The report points out that:

  • Only about one-fourth of the 306 students who participated at some point during these two school years had attended a public school in the school year before participating, and most of the remaining students had attended private schools.
  • Approximately three-fourths of participating students lived in the boundaries of Milwaukee Public Schools.
  • In the 2017-18 school year, participating students attended 26 participating private schools and were from 25 resident school districts.
  • The number of participating private schools increased from 24 in the 2016-17 school year to 26 in the 2017-18 school year.
  • In the 2018-19 school year, 84 private schools intend to participate.

Read more:

Special needs vouchers cost Wisconsin public schools $5.6 million in first two years

A Wisconsin program that allows special needs students to attend private schools on taxpayer-funded vouchers cost local public schools almost $5.6 million in state funding over the last two years, including hundreds of districts where no residents participated in the program, according to a new state audit and related documents.

Read the entire audit report:

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WEAC and AFT-Wisconsin presidents join Democrats in blasting Walker’s latest TV ad and DeVos’ visit to state

WEAC President Ron Martin joined the Democratic Party of Wisconsin Tuesday in a media call in response to visits from U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to the state. In discussing education policies, several speakers blasted Walker’s latest TV ad.

“I’m an eighth grade social studies teacher who has a long career dedicated to students,” Martin said. “It’s unbelievable that Betsy DeVos, who has dedicated her life to dismantling public schools, would show up in Wisconsin for a photo op.

“In Wisconsin, we believe all children have a right to a top-notch public education. Betsy DeVos doesn’t share that vision with us.

“Secretary DeVos, President Trump, Scott Walker – they’re all politicians who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk. Photo stunts and millions of dollars of slick ads won’t change that fact.”

Kim Kohlhaas, president of the American Federation of Teachers – Wisconsin, echoed those sentiments:

“Betsy DeVos is the worst education secretary of our lifetime,” Kohlhaas said. “Unfortunately, Scott Walker is also the worst education governor of our lifetime. This is more than a funding issue, this is a values issues.

“You cannot claim to be the ‘education governor’ when 40 other states are investing in public education at a stronger pace than Wisconsin,” Kohlhaas said. “You cannot claim to be ‘education governor’ when classroom sizes have gone up, programs have been cut and positions cannot be filled.”

Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairwoman Martha Laning said: “It isn’t surprising that Secretary DeVos is here in Wisconsin today, because she and Scott Walker have the exact same approach to education funding. They both support policies that have diverted taxpayer dollars to private, unaccountable schools while starving our public schools.”

“Today Scott Walker introduced a 60 second ad focusing on the Three Lakes School District, which due to lack of state funding nearly closed last year,” Laning said. “Their community passed a $15 million school referendum to keep the school open. So it is tough to see Scott Walker taking credit for a program that his state funding decisions nearly destroyed.

“Wisconsin can’t afford any more of Walker’s disastrous policies, and that’s why voters are ready for a new governor who will have a positive vision to expand healthcare and educational opportunity. Democrats are ready to lead Wisconsin to a better future for all.”

From One Wisconsin Now:

Worst Governor on Public Education Hosts Worst Secretary of Dept. of Education

MADISON, Wis. – The worst governor for public education in state history, Scott Walker, is hosting the worst Secretary of the Department of Education in American history, Betsy DeVos, today as she visits a technical college and a public middle school in Wisconsin. “These two deserve each other,” commented One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross.

This is an 11.0101(10)(b)(1) communication with WEAC members.

Legislative Update – May 29 – What’s next for the School Funding Commission?

WEAC members for the past half-year spoke up at a series of legislative public hearings about the resources we need to adequately teach our students, and now leaders of the panel holding the forums are talking about what may come next. The final hearing is set Monday, June 4, in Madison.

The co-chairs of the commission say they may address critical issues such as declining enrollment and special education reimbursements. Particularly telling was that Republicans Senator Luther Olsen and Representative Joel Kitchens don’t anticipate they’ll touch school vouchers or open enrollment – both topics they said were in the scope of their work when the commission formed in December.

WEAC President Ron Martin said it was disappointing that the commission may back away from voucher transparency and fixing the damage vouchers cause to neighborhood public schools. Much of the testimony the panel received from public school advocates centered on how private school vouchers take vital funding from neighborhood public schools, without accountability to taxpayers. To make up for lost state aid tied to the voucher system, school districts throughout Wisconsin had to levy an additional $37 million in property taxes in 2017-18, and will have to levy an anticipated $47 million in 2018-19.

The commission also looks like it might not get to the root of adequate school funding so districts can hire and retain qualified educators for the long haul. Instead, one co-chair said we might see bills encouraging retired educators to substitute as a solution to the state’s teacher shortage.

The co-chairs, speaking to Capitol insiders at WisPolitics, said they were looking at changes to the school funding formula but weren’t in agreement what that could look like. Kitchens left the door open to “completely overhauling it,” saying it’s “pretty clear there will be some fundamental changes we will recommend, but the extent of that is up in the air,” while Olsen said he doesn’t see an overhaul on the horizon and instead emphasized the need to provide more funding to declining enrollment districts.

Other items that may be recommended include combined services like grade sharing, more K-8 districts, and consolidation. The governor in 2017 vetoed a provision promoting grade sharing between districts.

Olsen mentioned tweaking components of the equalization aid formula, which most education advocates say doesn’t go far enough. Neither lawmaker embraced going beyond the new plan to boost the revenue ceiling for low-spending districts, saying that was solved with the recent legislation.

While the co-chairs signaled the possibility of recommending an increase in the state’s special education reimbursements, WEAC President Martin noted that a similar proposal did not make it into the last few state budgets and instead only a high-cost special education reimbursement rate received a boost.

It’s uncertain whether recommendations will come forward in the next state budget, as stand-alone bills, or a mixture of both.

Listen to a recording of the interview with Senator Luther Olsen

Listen to a recording of the interview with Representative Joel Kitchens

Next Steps: After the final public hearing June 4, the co-chairs will sit down individually with each of the 16 commission members and representatives from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to see what legislation they’d like to come out of the body.

‘No-excuses’ charter schools could do more harm than good, analysis finds

“No-excuses” charter schools – which promote strict disciplinary policies, longer school days, and intensive academic tutoring at the expense of the arts and physical education – could do more harm than good, according to a new review by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

“While supporters of ‘no-excuses’ charter schools say these practices improve student achievement, they fail to acknowledge the potential negative effects these practices have on students, teachers, and families,” according to the report.

The Think Twice report disputes an earlier report by Princeton University and the Brookings Institute claiming that practices found in “no-excuses” charter schools could help close the achievement gap, especially in low-performing schools. Think Twice reviewers Joanne W. Golann, an assistant professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, and Chris Torres, an assistant professor of K-12 educational administration at Michigan State University, conclude that the original report had several flaws and should not be used to inform education policy or as a tool to expand “no-excuses” charter schools and policies.

The Think Twice report noted that several studies have demonstrated the “no-excuses” practices can negatively impact a student’s socio-emotional development and later success. “Many ‘no-excuses’ charter schools have harsh, disparate discipline policies that can result in suspensions or expulsions for violations, no matter how small,” it says.

The Think Twice report says:

  • “No-excuses” schools aren’t a one-size-fits-all approach to turning around schools; and there is no solid evidence to back up claims that “no-excuses” disciplinary policies are the core reason for these schools’ success.
  • “No-excuses” schools have higher than average teacher turnover rates due to concerns about workload, long hours, and the “no-excuses” model itself.
  • Policymakers, education leaders, and other decision-makers should pause before expanding “no-excuses” schools and polices.
  • Policymakers, educators, and researchers need to work together to address and understand the impact of the “no-excuses” model before expanding it to other charters or even traditional public schools.
  • We need to embrace culturally relevant educational practices that support equitable and fair learning opportunities for all students and ensure students can learn in a safe environment.
  • Educators should focus on all aspects of student growth – including academic and emotional and personal growth – rather than only focusing on academic achievement to measure student success.

Find out more at the Great Lakes Center website.

Vouchers are far worse for student achievement than previously thought, analysis concludes

A new analysis by the Center for American Progress concludes that private school vouchers are more harmful to student achievement than previously thought and that students attending private voucher schools miss out on approximately one-third of a year of classroom learning.

“This analysis builds on a large body of voucher program evaluations in Louisiana, Indiana, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., all of which show that students attending participating private schools perform significantly worse than their peers in public schools—especially in math,” according to the summary titled The Highly Negative Impacts of Vouchers. “A recent, rigorous evaluation of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program from the U.S. Department of Education reaffirms these findings, reporting that D.C. students attending voucher schools performed significantly worse than they would have in their original public school.”

The report concludes that voucher programs have a more negative impact on students than exposure to violent crime at school, feeling unsafe in school, high teacher turnover, and teacher absenteeism.

It cited the lack of instructional time in voucher schools as a main factor: “The researchers found that private schools offer less instructional time than public schools. On average, private schools offer 65.5 minutes less per week in reading instruction and 48.3 minutes less per week in math instruction. More quality instructional time is linked to higher student achievement. Therefore, with each additional year that students are enrolled in the voucher program, they lose even more instructional time.”

Read more about the study:

The Highly Negative Impacts of Vouchers – Center for American Progress

How bad are school vouchers for students? Far worse than most people imagine. Indeed, according to the analysis conducted by the authors of this report, the use of school vouchers-which provide families with public dollars to spend on private schools-is equivalent to missing out on more than one-third of a year of classroom learning.

Examination finds ‘significant concerns’ over Education Savings Accounts

From the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice

In recent years, efforts to expand school choice programs across the U.S. have grown rapidly. Since the introduction of the first school voucher program in Milwaukee in 1990, public funding of private and religious schools has gained traction and there are 30 states now offering vouchers or voucher-like programs.

School choice advocates have begun introducing a new form of private school choice funding: Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). Parents who take their children out of public schools can use ESA programs to fund their children’s private or religious school education. In states that offer ESA programs, parents can also use the funds for education-related expenses, including: online courses, private tutoring, transportation, and much more.

A new policy brief published by the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) examines the emergence of ESA policies and makes recommendations for policy makers who are considering adopting or expanding these programs. The policy brief, The State of Education Savings Account Programs in the United States, found significant concerns with ESA programs and a stunning lack of research evidence to support ongoing calls for continued expansion.

Available research and evaluations of ESA policies remains severely lacking. This gap is critical in light of the fact that ESA programs are being expanded at a rapid pace. Since 2016, 13 states have introduced ESAs. New Hampshire is the latest state to adopt these policies.

Authors of the report urge policy makers to pause the adoption or expansion of ESA programs until more guidelines are in place that ensure accountability and transparency. NEPC produced the report with funding from the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Why You Should Care

Proponents of ESAs argue these programs provide parents with more choice, flexibility and freedom to design their child’s education, especially if they are dissatisfied with public school options. Against this backdrop, it is likely ESAs will continue to expand across the country.

That’s why it is critical for state and federal policy makers and education leaders to examine ESA policies and put accountability measures in place to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and transparently, and that every child has access to a quality education.

CORE MESSAGES

  • According to the authors of the brief (Jimenez-CastellanosMathis, & Welner), policy makers should be wary of the adoption or expansion of ESA policies.
    • ESA programs are a new type of private school funding that diverts much-needed funding away from public schools and redirect it to parents who enroll their children in private or religious schools and supplemental programs.
    • Parents receive taxpayer dollars that would have been used towards their child’s public school education, which then can be used at their discretion towards private or religious school tuition and fees, online courses, tutoring and other services.
    • Current ESA policies contain no requirements regarding curriculum or teacher qualifications.
  • Policy makers lack the evidence-based to support the adoption or expansion of ESA programs.
    • Existing research on other conventional school voucher programs point to a number of problems, including: lower student performance, less accountability, reduced access and increased segregation.
    • Authors of the policy brief found that ESAs appear to be an end run around state constitutional prohibitions against using public funds to support religious activities.
  • Considering the potential adverse effects and lack of evidence-based research on ESA programs, state policy makers need to take a step back on ESA programs, and ensure the implications of such programs are fully considered before enacting them into law.
    • State policy makers and education leaders in states with existing ESA programs or those considering adopting an ESA program should develop comprehensive evaluation systems that determine the impact of ESA programs on students, families, schools, districts and states.
    • Policy makers need to make sure guidelines are in place that ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and transparently, and that students inside and outside of such programs are receiving quality and equitable educational opportunities.

Find the brief on the Great Lakes Center website:

http://www.greatlakescenter.org

At request of Janesville Education Association, school board votes to support Voucher Transparency Bill

At the request of the Janesville Education Association, the Janesville School Board this week voted, 9-0, to support the Wisconsin Taxpayer Voucher Transparency Bill. The bill, authored by state Rep. Dana Wachs (D-Eau Claire), would require property tax bills to include information from the school district where the property is located regarding the amount of any net reduction in state aid to the district as a result of pupils enrolled in the statewide voucher program, the Racine voucher program, or the Milwaukee voucher program.

The resolution notes that, statewide, property taxes increased by over $25 million in 2016-17 due to school boards levying to offset lost aid due to the voucher system. The statewide property tax impact is estimated to grow to $37 million in 2017-18 and to $47 million in 2018-19. The Janesville School District was required to levy $187,180 in taxpayer dollars to be allocated to the statewide voucher program for 2017-18, and local taxpayers are not provided with information about their tax dollars being spent on private and voucher schools.

School boards in Eau Claire, Holmen, Stevens Point, Wausau, South Milwaukee, Holmen, Baraboo and Merrill have passed similar resolutions.

Here is the entire resolution:

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