School Choice Empowers Parents

A column written by three members of the Holmen School Board was full of erroneous claims about the future of Wisconsin’s public education and voucher funding (Sunday’s Tribune).

The comments of the school board members demonstrated either their complete lack of understanding of the proposed funding of the Wisconsin Parental Choice Program or a purposeful attempt to spread misinformation. As is the case all over Wisconsin, an incomplete and false representation of the facts is being used in an attempt to sway public opinion.

On a large scale, opponents of school choice have focused on an estimate that shows that funding for the expansion of the program will cost $600 million to $800 million over the next decade. Sound the alarms! Except when put into context, it looks much different. Overall education funding over that time will be $94 billion. That means the expansion of the school choice program represents less than 1 percent of funding.

Expansion of the statewide school choice program will now use an existing funding mechanism based on public school open enrollment. Nearly 50,000 students currently use this funding model all across Wisconsin and, until now, has not been the center of complaints.

As the local district is no longer required to educate that child, state dollars that fund the voucher (or public school open enrollment) simply follow the child to the private school or the neighboring district school. When the school board members claim that money will be leaving the district, they neglect to mention that no money leaves unless a parent voluntarily places their child in a different school.

In fact, public school districts, if they so choose, will be able to levy property taxes for each student in the statewide program and simply keep that money for a child they are not educating. In some cases, that will be thousands of dollars per child.

Because local districts are allowed to levy for students in the school choice program but only the state money follows the child, this ancillary funding results in a per-pupil increase for the local district. That’s right, the school choice program results in the pubic district getting more money per child — a far different picture than the school choice opponents painted.

On a local level, the column claims that the amount public schools will receive per pupil from state and local sources is less than the voucher amount. This is simply incorrect. For the 2013-14 school year, the voucher amount was $6,442 for grades K-12. That same year, the average state and local property tax funding per pupil amount was $11,224.

The Tomah Journal is cited, saying that the Tomah School District is worse off now funding-wise than it was in 2014. A quick fact check will show you that Tomah received $9,383 from state and property tax sources per pupil in 2010 and $10,331 in 2014 — hardly a downgrade. Additionally, Act 10 has allowed many districts to save substantial amounts of money since 2010.

To add insult to injury, the authors attacked voucher schools, claiming that they are unaccountable. This is inherently false. Comparatively, the Wisconsin school choice programs have the most stringent regulations on choice schools compared to 23 other choice programs in 12 states.

Schools that participate in the parental choice programs must be accredited, demonstrate multiple measures of fiscal viability, participate in state assessments and have those results published. In addition, an independent accountant audits every dollar for every student in every year. For the upcoming school year, choice schools will also be rated on the same report card as public schools, which will further hold them accountable to parents and policymakers.

Time and time again, opponents of school choice resort to using logical fallacies and scare tactics in order to create a false narrative. When the facts are considered, it’s clear to see that the proposed funding model of the parental choice programs does not bankrupt public school districts. Instead, the new system is based on an already successful model where money follows the child that will ensure adequate funding for all educational players.

We support empowering parents through the expansion of the school choice program. Providing high quality educational options in addition to the public school system will help children, parents and families throughout Wisconsin. The measured approach that the legislature chose and the utilization of an existing funding mechanism that results in districts getting more money per child makes the hysterical claims of school choice opponents ring hollow.

-Jim Bender, President of School Choice Wisconsin


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