No child should be trapped in a failing school.
The solution is simple: a statewide Parental Choice Voucher Program.
All parents must be able to choose their own child’s school, irrespective of their financial status or zip code and the child’s standing as a “special ed” student or not… be it public, private, charter or otherwise. Without free market demands for honest transparency and real accountability, we will not see any significant improvement in the quality of education, student learning and out-of-control costs to fund public schools.
It’s time for government to get out of the way. Free market competition is our only hope to drive real education reform.
The passage of 2011 Wisconsin Act 32 Biennial Budget created a parental choice program expansion for “eligible” school districts – which means 2nd class cities with school districts identified as being “high poverty”. A determination of high poverty is based on the number of students receiving free or reduced price lunches which reaches the 50% threshold. The final qualification is the student’s “total family income does not exceed 300 percent of the poverty level.” According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) the household Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) from the prior calendar year federal income tax is the qualifier, which sets the maximum yearly income for a family of four at $69,801 (1).
Although not a statewide Parental Choice Voucher Program, it is a very good step in the right direction.
So what’s the problem?
Detractors claim students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) fail to perform better than those in the Milwaukee Public Schools system, when the truth is the voucher program provides better results at half the cost.
“Students attending private schools in Milwaukee with publicly funded vouchers showed stronger gains in achievement than their public school counterparts, according to the latest release from a University of Arkansas sponsored, and State of Wisconsin authorized, longitudinal study…
In simple terms, students in the MPCP outperformed their counterparts by a significant margin when it came to reading. In eighth grade, a voucher student was 17 percent more likely to out gain a regular public school student when it came to reading and literacy.
Growth was also observed in mathematics for these students over the same period. Amongst seventh graders, MPCP students were 11 percent more likely to outscore their MPS peers.”–Official State of Wisconsin Study Confirms Choice Schools’ Success by Christine D’Andrea, MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst (2, 3)
One private Milwaukee school demonstrating the kind of student success which has garnered national attention is HOPE Christian Schools. Self-described as a “network of Christian college-preparatory schools in Milwaukee’s central city”, they strive to provide their students with a values-based education to develop not only their knowledge, but character, as well. From it’s humble beginnings as a small K-4 school educating 49 children, it has grown and expanded to providing over 810 students with a high quality K4-12 education in 2011.
“Last year’s eighth-grade graduates grew from the 34th percentile on their sixth-grade tests to the 50th percentile on their eighth-grade tests, which means they gained roughly 3.5 years of growth in two years at HOPE.”–Accountability Reports, HOPE Christian Schools (4)
Testifying at a state Senate hearing in Madison, at the end of February, in favor of SB486 to establish a Special Needs Scholarship Program (see Big ED Lobbies Against Special Needs Kids), I was extremely impressed by all those in attendance representing St Marcus Lutheran School and Messmer Catholic Schools in Milwaukee. Along with HOPE, these are shining examples of what a statewide expansion of the type of educational opportunities a Parental Choice Voucher Program could provide for all Wisconsin children and their families.
Why then, snuff out the flicker of hope to families with children trapped in a school failing to educate?
“Big ED”, the education-related organizations including: Association of Wisconsin School Administrators (AWSA), Southeastern Wisconsin Schools Alliance, United Transportation Union, Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB), Wisconsin Association of School Business Officials (WASBO), Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators (WASDA), Wisconsin Council for Administrators of Special Services (WCASS), Wisconsin School Social Workers Association (WSSWA) and Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) are lobbying to prevent the school voucher genie from escaping the bottle because of their interest in maintaining their monopoly and the status quo (5). How often have we heard these powerful education-related organizations of public school employees and officials claim to put children first? It rings hollow. Follow the money.
At St Marcus, student success opened the floodgates of parents eager to enroll their children. In the span of a decade, St Marcus has increased enrollment fourfold, warranting a significant facilities expansion.
“It seems to me that the community is pretty desperate for things that work,” he said. “And when they find things that work, they tend to become supportive.”
Tyson said the longest waiting list of students trying to get into the school is in sixth and seventh grade.
“There’s no anxiety about being able to fill seats,” he said. “Anyone who’s successful is turning people away like crazy.”–St Marcus Lutheran starts $9.4 million expansion by Erin Richards, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (6)
Clearly, the success of these Choice Schools in Milwaukee and possibility of its expansion statewide is worrisome to Big ED.
I suspect as a result of pressure from school-related special interests groups determined to prevent other Wisconsin families from having the option to escape a failing school – something they call a “loophole” – a small group of bi-partisan legislators introduced and cosponsored SB174 (7). Reportedly, this could result in an expansion of the Parental Choice Voucher Program to as many as 37 school districts, statewide. Is it co-incidental, these legislators represent many of the areas encompassed by these same school districts?
Without a doubt, the only hope for education is free-market competition.
This bill is expected to come to the Assembly floor next Tuesday (March 13th) for a final vote. Please contact legislators who signed on to support SB174, urging them to reconsider their decision and your Assembly Representative to vote “NO”. The time is now for our legislators to stand with Wisconsin families and tell Big ED our students will not be trapped in failing schools.
- 2012-13 Income Limits for New Students, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI)
- Official State of Wisconsin Study Confirms Choice Schools’ Success by Christine D’Andrea, MacIver Institute Education Policy Analyst (2/27/2012)
- School Choice Demonstration Project: Milwaukee Parental Choice Program University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform
- Accountability Reports, HOPE Christian Schools
- Legislative bills and resolutions, Senate Bill 174: “closing the parental choice program for eligible school districts to additional school districts” , Eye on Lobbying in Wisconsin website
- St Marcus Lutheran starts $9.4 million expansion: Project will provide additional classrooms for growing ‘no excuses’ school by Erin Richards, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (11/1/2010)
- 2011 Senate Bill 174