Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Voucher Schools: Inherently Unequal

State Senator Tim Cullen is one of Wisconsin's finest.  He consistently provides reasoned, historical perspective on state matters.  This is Sen. Cullen's finely-crafted essay on the latest voucher proposal being pushed through the state budget bill.

Last week, I expressed my extreme disappointment when the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee voted along party lines to create a statewide unaccountable school voucher program.

Make no mistake – this plan creates two separate school systems in Wisconsin, both paid for by taxpayers.

In 1954, late Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Earl Warren said, “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” His words hold true today.

While the agreement creates a 500-student cap during the program’s first year and a 1,000-student cap in subsequent years, the cap could be lifted in the future or may be line-item vetoed by the governor. The ultimate goal of voucher supporters is not to open the voucher program to 500 or 1,000 students, but an unrestricted expansion of vouchers.

The private school voucher effort is a political movement, not an educational movement. It is a top-down movement funded by tens of millions of dollars in out-of-state campaign contributions and the hiring of several highly-paid lobbyists.

The voucher expansion is not just a loss for public education, but also for state taxpayers like you and me.

Governor Walker and legislative Republicans are creating a second statewide school system funded by taxpayers, yet this voucher system will provide no transparency or accountability when it comes to how those taxpayer dollars are being spent.

Instead of creating a two-tiered school system and diminishing our public schools, we should be recommitting to public education.

The problem with public education test scores and graduation rates lies with the lives students are forced to live the seventeen hours per day they are not in school. Far too many children live in disruptive homes with no discipline, no encouragement, no curfews, and poor nutrition. When they arrive at school, they are unprepared to learn. The political voucher movement points the finger at public schools for these problems, which is not a fair assessment.

There is no evidence that private schools, which are able to cherry pick the students they will allow to enroll, can do anything better regarding these seventeen hours that students are not in school.

Parents in Wisconsin have every right to send their children to private schools or to home school them, but taxpayers should not be required to pay that cost.

Despite such a dramatic change in the Republicans’ voucher expansion proposal, all of this damage to public education is buried in the state budget bill, with no separate statewide public hearings on these significant changes.

To paraphrase Beloit Memorial High School principal Tom Johnson, our public school teachers, principals, and administrators have given too much sweat equity, school pride, and hometown devotion to allow legislative leaders to diminish their work in favor of an unaccountable privatization of our school system.

I believe there is a chance that the governor's new voucher expansion plan could be changed before the budget is passed. I assure you that I will be working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to try to stop this unfair voucher plan.

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