Friday, May 3, 2013

Wisconsin's Private School Vouchers Prove Wasteful

John Forester, Director of Government Relations for the School Administrators Alliance (SAA), shares in this blog posting more sound reasoning opposing Wisconsin Governor Walker's private school voucher plan.

Many observers have called Governor Walker’s proposal to expand private school vouchers bad education policy. I agree. But, today, I would like to address voucher expansion from the perspective of fiscal policy.

If voucher advocates are successful in expanding private school vouchers in this budget, vouchers will eventually become one of the largest taxpayer‐funded entitlements in Wisconsin.

I realize this is a strong statement. I also understand that voucher proponents argue the governor’s proposal increases voucher eligibility to just nine new school districts in 2013‐14. But, if you let the nose of the camel inside the tent, it won’t be long before the rest of the camel is inside the tent as well.
The ultimate objective of private school voucher advocates is a statewide system of private school vouchers for all Wisconsin school children. Voucher advocates, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, have repeatedly voiced their support for statewide vouchers. But, this objective really became crystal clear in a recent news interview when School Choice Wisconsin Vice‐President Terry Brown identified the goal of voucher proponents as “a voucher in every backpack.”

So, how much could this entitlement end up costing Wisconsin taxpayers?

Let’s just focus on those students currently enrolled in private school, because of course, lawmakers wouldn’t deny those children access to a voucher simply because they are already enrolled in private school. It wouldn’t be fair and, it probably wouldn’t be legal either. Let’s also remove the question of income eligibility because Governor Walker has already expressed his desire to remove the income eligibility requirements for vouchers.

According to the Department of Public Instruction, we have 97,488 students currently enrolled in private schools in Wisconsin but not receiving a taxpayer‐funded voucher. If we multiply that number by the current voucher payment of $6,442, we get just over $628 million.

But, the governor’s proposal would increase the voucher payment to $7,050 for K‐8 students and $7,856 for high school students. So, just for perspective, if we multiply the private school enrollment figure by $7,050, we get over $687 million. And, if we multiply the enrollment figure by $7,856, we get almost $766 million. Clearly, voucher expansion will be a large and growing fiscal commitment for Wisconsin taxpayers.

So, what would voucher proponents have lawmakers do to fund this growing entitlement? Raise taxes? In the 1990s, Governor Tommy Thompson was asked about his lack of support for statewide voucher expansion. He answered, “We can’t afford two systems of education.” His words ring just as true today as they did then.

We simply can’t afford two systems of education in Wisconsin.

After spending nine years on the staff of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, I have to say I am perplexed that so many fiscal conservatives would support growing entitlement spending of this magnitude.

Voucher expansion is not only bad education policy. It is bad fiscal policy as well.


  1. The push to expand vouchers is particularly offensive given the historic cuts the legislature has inflicted upon Wisconsin public schools. Is there any doubt that the Governor seeks to hand our successful public education system over to the private sector?

  2. Whether it's war toys, or bank bailouts, or tax breaks, or private prisons, or no bid contracts, or criticizing public schools while promoting school vouchers to private schools, or disparaging community colleges while supporting private for-profit colleges, or enriching fast food restaurants with food stamps, or armies of private security contractors, or the privatization of the student loan market, or the privatization of social security, the goal of the modern Republican Party is to expose our taxpayer dollars to the open market and let big business and corporations fight for it like kids collecting candy from a smash piñata.

    It doesn't really matter which large-scale institute collects the candy, politicians know that they will receive their share of the plunder.

    This is just another scheme designed to transfer taxpayers' money to business and corporations.