Over the past twenty years there has been an educational policy shift to systematically defund the K-12 Wisconsin public school system by using public taxpayer money to support private school vouchers. This educational policy shift of resources is challenging the state’s constitutional obligation to uniformly fund public schools.
Funding of Wisconsin’s public schools was one of the top state issues that helped to elect Governor Tony Evers. Following his election, Gov. Evers Assembled a bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission with the directive to travel the state to gather input for creating a state public schools education budget proposal. The recommendation by the bipartisan commission to the Governor and the Wisconsin Legislature was to increase school funding by $1.4 billion in the 2019-2020 state budget. The GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance threw out the recommendations in its entirety. The state school funding budget that passed when factoring for inflation resulted in our public schools being funded at a lower amount than in Governor Walker’s last public schools budget, while systematically increasing funding for private voucher school students.
The following data related to Wisconsin school funding 2019-2020 provided by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction reinforces this policy shift of using taxpayers’ money to support private school vouchers at the expense of funding our public schools:
- Private school vouchers and non-district charter schools cost Wisconsin taxpayers $427.7 million this year. A statewide law allows private voucher schools to increase enrollment by 1% every year until 2026. At that time the private enrollment cap will be entirely removed.
- 40% of public school districts got less aid than last year; 169 of our states’s 247 school districts received less school aid.
- 89% of students in the statewide voucher program already attend private schools; less than 11% of this year’s students transferred from public schools. That means parents already enrolled in a private voucher school received a public taxpayer-supported voucher.
This educational policy shift to systematically defund our public schools using our tax dollars to support private school vouchers is being done with without any research to support that it improves student learning and even despite evidence to the contrary:
“A wide range of research shows that private school voucher programs are an ineffective use of public funds. Studies of voucher programs across the country have found that students who participate in private school voucher programs fare worse academically than students educated in public schools, and in some cases dramatically worse. In addition, voucher programs undermine already struggling public schools. Other damaging effects of vouchers include loss of civil rights protections, increased segregation, and erosion of the separation of church and state. Private school voucher programs often lack accountability and transparency, yet cost millions of public dollars.”Public Funds Public Schools
In addition to the budgetary constraints to Wisconsin’s K-12 public schools created by the funding of private voucher schools, we now have the added budgetary concerns faced by all our Wisconsin School Districts as a result of the COVID 19 pandemic.
For additional information related to funding for public schools, visit the website of the bipartisan Wisconsin Public Education Network.