MADISON – Three peer reviewed studies of the state taxpayer-funded school voucher program in Milwaukee have recently been released (The budget issue paper that discusses these studies are at: http://news.dpi.wi.gov/files/eis/pdf/vrsch.pdf). Using data from the legislatively mandated evaluation of the Milwaukee voucher program, the studies’ conclusions are illuminating in multiple regards:
1) The given reason for the creation of the voucher program was to give poorer, low-achieving students a chance at a better education. But the fact is that most of the children who leave voucher schools and return to public schools are those same poorer, low-achieving students. This “cropping effect” reinforces the point that voucher programs are failing the very kids it was designed to help.
2) Generally, all students who transfer from the voucher program back into public schools realize significant achievement gains after doing so. The achievement effects of moving from voucher schools to Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) are even more significant for low-performing students. Students who return to MPS truly do better once they are back in public school.
3) Voucher schools are less likely to identify and label students who require special education. They are also less likely to hold back failing students, a decision that denies struggling kids their right to quality education.
Senator Nikiya Harris (D-Milwaukee) issued the following statement in response to these findings:
“Over the past 20 years, Wisconsin has spent $1.5 billion on a failed voucher experiment that has produced the opposite of what it promised. Meanwhile, there are public schools where teachers are tasked with managing 40 or more kids in one class, where the art rooms are always dark, where the textbooks are out-of-date and falling apart, where they keep a piano in the cafeteria be cause the part- time music teacher doesn’t have a classroom anymore.
“Imagine how many new textbooks could’ve been bought or how many after-school programs could’ve been created if we had invested $1.5 billion into Milwaukee’s public schools instead of giving that money away to a shot-in-the-dark idea that has amounted to being the educational equivalent of an air-ball. Imagine how many lives could’ve been changed if public schools had the resources to build and maintain engaging programs that nourished every child’s natural desire to learn. It is clear that it is time to stop the expansion of voucher programs and reinvest in public educa tion.
“Last session, Republicans (including Assembly Leader Vos, and current Joint Finance members Reps. Strachota and LeMahieu) introduced a bill (AB 919) to increase school district revenue by $275 per pupil. These are the same legislators who boast about Wisconsin being in much better fiscal shape this session than it was last session, when they authored AB 919.
“If the state is in better fiscal shape this session, and schools are in much worse shape, there is no reason that the same Republicans who cosigned a bill to increase the per pupil rate then shouldn’t be rushing to do the same thing now.
“We must stop the expansion of voucher programs and reinvest in our public schools. The proposed $275 per pupil increase is a necessary start toward the recommitment we must make to our children. We must not devalue their futures.”