Vouchers from state should come with standardsAcross Wisconsin, over 870,000 students recently began a new school year.
By: Sen. Jennifer Shilling, Superior Telegram
Across Wisconsin, over 870,000 students recently began a new school year. Like most of these children, my two young boys are excited to get back into their classrooms, discover new inspirations and learn new skills.
We are fortunate to have great schools in Wisconsin, both public and private, that help our children grow and develop their unique talents. Our students repeatedly demonstrate strong performance and growth in key academic areas such as reading, science and math, and we have one of the highest graduation rates in the nation.
We take pride in fulfilling our responsibility to provide a quality education to every child in our state, but we continue to face new challenges.
Over the past two years, our public schools have been forced to absorb the largest funding cuts in our state’s history and local taxpayers have seen their property taxes continue to increase. Many schools have had to lay off teachers and class sizes have increased.
Meanwhile, Gov. Scott Walker’s private voucher school program has expanded statewide and a new $30 million tax break was created for families who chose to send their children to private schools.
If the state continues down this path of expanding the subsidies for private school tuition, the Department of Public Instruction estimates it could cost taxpayers anywhere from $554 million up to $1.9 billion annually.
In order to bring costs under control and improve accountability, I have joined a growing bipartisan group of legislators who have called for immediate reforms to the voucher school program. One Republican proposal would add voucher schools to the state’s report card system to improve transparency. Another proposal that that I co-wrote, the Voucher Accountability Bill, will help to prevent fraud, strengthen academic standards and hold down costs for taxpayers.
Unfortunately, powerful voucher school lobbying groups have already lined up against these bipartisan reform measures. They don’t think private voucher schools that accept state taxpayer funding should have to meet basic standards such as hiring licensed teachers and performing background checks on school staff.
Without these commonsense safeguards and academic standards, taxpayers have no way of knowing how their hard-earned dollars are spent or what outcomes are produced.
At every listening session I’ve held, parents and taxpayers have expressed serious concerns with this shift in state funding away from local public schools to unaccountable private voucher schools. I agree that we must focus our resources where they are most needed in order to maintain our commitment to quality public education. In these tough times, we simply can’t afford to spend more state taxpayer dollars to subsidize an alternative private school voucher system that only benefits a few students at the expense of our local public schools.
Just as our children and students are looking forward to what this new school year will bring, parents and taxpayers should also look ahead to what the future holds. Reigning in unaccountable voucher school spending and reinvesting in our local public schools will ensure continued student growth, high academic performance and more manageable costs for families and taxpayers.
Jennifer Shilling, a Democrat, represents the 32nd Senate District, which covers La Crosse, Vernon, Crawford and parts of Monroe County.