Editorial: SASD Does Not Support the Expansion of Voucher Program

As part of his state budget proposal, Governor Walker has included funding for the expansion of the ‘Wisconsin Parental Choice Program.’ Until now, Milwaukee and Racine were the only two cities in Wisconsin where public dollars are funneled to private schools through state-funded vouchers given to parents to offset the cost of switching from public to private school.

The Sheboygan Area School District is one of nine school districts statewide that would qualify for the expansion of the parental school choice program, often referred to as a voucher program, based on details outlined in a press release from the Office of the Governor.

We have serious concerns about the Governor’s proposal. We believe that offering choice through the voucher program will hurt Wisconsin’s education system, thus hurting our children, and it is a choice that Wisconsin cannot afford.

The Sheboygan Area School District is a statewide leader in offering children and parents choices that best meets their child’s needs. The SASD offers an impressive network of 17 neighborhood schools and 11 charter schools within our public school district. And if that’s not enough, the statewide Open Enrollment program further allows families the option to enroll in another public school district.

Here are some facts to consider regarding public-funded vouchers:

Vouchers do not improve student achievement. According to multiple studies of the District of Columbia, Milwaukee and Cleveland private school voucher programs, students offered vouchers do not perform better in reading and math than students in public schools.
The voucher program uses taxpayer dollars with no accountability. Requirements for voucher schools stand in stark contrast to the strong controls imposed on public schools. For example, private voucher schools are not bound by most state instructional requirements, nor do they follow uniform state graduation requirements. Voucher schools do not have to accept all students. In contrast, the state is moving to more rigorous standards for public schools in the form of the state report card and new evaluations methods for teachers and administrators. We embrace these new accountability measures, but we believe all schools should be measured by the same assessments so parents can truly make informed choices and so taxpayers know their tax money is funding quality schools.

Public schools already subsidize private schools. Taxpayer dollars already pay for the transportation needs of private school students to and from school, provide specific special education services to private school students, and some federal funding (Title 1) for educating low income students. With the lack of high need students and transportation costs, private schools do not spend as much to educate a student. Public schools are required by law to provide services to all students regardless of special needs and cost of services.

Vouchers take resources away from a quality public education. According to State Superintendent Tony Evers: “Private voucher schools will receive $73 million in additional funding and spending authority, coupled with a dramatic statewide expansion. This means up to a $1,400 per-pupil funding increase for 25,000 students in voucher schools, while freezing spending ($0 revenue limit growth) for our 870,000 students in public schools.”

The decision on whether to expand the voucher program is a policy discussion and must be removed from the budget discussion and voted on as separate legislation. This will ensure that the proposal receives the thorough review and public discussion it needs.

We appreciate the strong support we have received from our community. We encourage everyone to educate themselves about this important issue, and to contact the governor’s office and your legislators and encourage them to preserve a quality public education in all our communities.

Written by:
Dr. Joseph Sheehan, Superintendent
David Gallianetti, Board of Education President

February 21, 2013 (PDF version)

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