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The End of Public Education

Feb. 26, 2013
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Republican Gov. Scott Walker no longer even pretends to support public education. His budget is now an open assault on public schools, which educate most Wisconsin children.

This isn’t really new, but in the past Walker and other opponents of public schools at least felt it necessary to try to cover up their attacks on public education with some pretty preposterous lies.

The reason they were slashing funding for public schools, they said, was to make those schools better. 

By taking money away from public schools and sending it to private voucher schools, they were forcing public schools to improve in order to compete with the voucher system.

It’s like the old joke: The floggings will continue until morale improves. The more the state gutted public school budgets, the better education those schools would provide.

Wisconsin’s voucher system started more than 20 years ago under Gov. Tommy Thompson. Walker and other right-wing Republicans have always supported it under the pretense of helping poor, African-American children from Milwaukee gain access to private schools.

That always sounded pretty fishy since most of those supporters are strongly antagonistic to any other government programs that benefit poor, black families.


Taxpayers Fund Two School Systems

In his last budget, Walker exposed the real reason behind the right wing’s unlikely advocacy for a program benefiting poor, black children. Walker began raising income limits for parents receiving private school vouchers with the ultimate goal of removing those limits entirely.

We once had two school systems in this country. One was the public school system funded by taxpayers that guaranteed every child an education. The wealthy and some religious organizations, wanting a more exclusive, private education for their own children, funded their own private school system.

What a deal it would be if the wealthy could trick taxpayers into funding both systems.

Sure, there would be less public money to go around. That would mean less money for public schools educating the riffraff.

But for private schools, the majority of their costs would now be paid by a whopping public subsidy they’d never received before. The wealthy still would be money ahead after putting all the additional funds into the schools they wanted.

Many taxpayers bought it hook, line and sinker.

Now, in his latest budget, Walker has no qualms about openly assaulting public education while he launches a major expansion of voucher schools throughout the state.

Remember, Walker’s latest budget follows the biggest public education cuts in Wisconsin history. In his last budget, Walker decimated spending for public schools by more than $800 million.

Walker claimed those cuts were necessary to close a $3 billion budget deficit even though he put hundreds of millions into enormous corporate tax cuts. This year, Walker bragged about a budget surplus after plundering nearly $1 billion from our children’s education.

Not only does Walker’s new budget fail to restore the hundreds of millions of dollars he took from public schools, but he basically freezes public school spending at its reduced level while increasing the size of vouchers and adding as many as nine new cities to the system.

If you listened to the governor’s budget message, you might think Walker was adding $129 million for public schools, which would still be pretty pathetic after schools lost more than $800 million.

But it’s even worse than that. Walker’s budget retains a cap on spending by public schools. So any additional money a public school district receives from the state requires it to reduce local property taxes by the same amount.

After already making historic funding cuts in public education, Walker’s budget now brazenly halts any additional spending for public schools and instead puts millions more into an enormous expansion of the private voucher school system.

To realize just how dangerous this shift really is you have to be well educated enough to understand the difference between public and private.

You know those public test scores that are published every year showing how well students are doing in a particular school? Well, forget them. Private schools don’t have to tell anyone how well their students are doing. That’s private.

In fact, after 20 years of pouring your tax money into private schools—more than $130 million a year in recent years—Wisconsin finally got around to comparing whether private voucher schools were doing any better than public schools in educating children in poverty. They weren’t. Sometimes, public schools did better.

You still can’t get any information about how well individual voucher schools are educating children. That’s private. Those schools don’t even have to tell you how they’re spending those millions of dollars they receive from taxpayers. That’s private, too.

As Walker accelerates the shift of your tax money from public schools into private schools, forget about finding out anything about where your money is going or whether children are being educated. That’s private.


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