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The Vouchers That Ate the State

Jun. 26, 2013
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“The Vouchers That Ate the State” is Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s summer blockbuster. Only it’s Wisconsin taxpayers who are going to get their blocks busted.

More than 20 years ago, public education supporters warned that conservative Republicans were scheming to double the schools taxpayers had to pay for by requiring taxpayers to fund not only public schools, but private schools throughout the state. It sounded absurd.

Conservative Republicans hated spending tax money on anything, but especially on education.

What many people still don’t understand is that self-proclaimed conservative Republicans are conservative about government spending only when tax money is spent to improve the lives of middle class, working families or poor folks.

When government money is spent on Republicans themselves and their wealthy friends, they can’t get enough of it.

That’s why conservatives oppose welfare for the poor while supporting hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate welfare.

And that’s why Walker’s second state budget makes an enormous tax grab by requiring taxpayers to fund private schools in addition to public schools throughout the state.

There’s certainly nothing conservative about such a radical change except in the new Republican definition of conservatism—that the only purpose of government is to line the pockets of the wealthy.

Before the voucher scam, we had two separate school systems in this state.

The one most of us knew was the taxpayer-funded public system. That’s the system required to provide a basic education to every child regardless of income, background or learning difficulties.

It’s the system that democratized opportunity in America and started most of us on the path to whatever success we’ve had in our lives.

But there were always parents who didn’t want their children to be part of the public system.

Sometimes, it was because parents wanted their children to receive strict, religious indoctrination that wasn’t permitted in public schools. Wealthy parents also paid to create prestigious private academies to intentionally separate their own children from public school riffraff.

It also must be said parents of nearly 20,000 white Milwaukee Public Schools students, one-fifth of the total, fled to private schools and suburbs within two years when MPS was ordered to end illegal racial segregation in the 1970s.


Picking Up the Tab for Private Schools

Private school parents obviously would love for the state to pick up the cost of educating their children too, but how in the world would anyone ever convince taxpayers to pay for both the public and private educational systems?

Through subterfuge, of course.

Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson began the voucher program in 1990, sending 300 low-income black Milwaukee children to seven private schools at a cost of $700,000. He claimed it was to give poor black children the same educational opportunities available to wealthy, white children.

The $400 million statewide voucher program in Walker’s new two-year budget drops all pretense of caring about the education of poor black children. It’s simply a way to pour taxpayer money into private schools statewide, with the ultimate goal of removing all income limits to benefit the wealthy.

Walker made that public in his last budget when he made the mistake of pushing too quickly toward removing income limits.

Even Howard Fuller, the former black activist and MPS superintendent who’s made a career of promoting vouchers nationally, denounced Walker’s plan as a betrayal to benefit the wealthy while further disadvantaging low-income families.

So, in this budget, Walker chose simply to continue raising income limits gradually while going for a stunning, sweeping geographic expansion to a totally statewide voucher system.

Also included is a generous tax deduction for families who send their kids to private schools, with no regard for family income.

And taxpayers stuck with the double billing hardly raised a peep.

Taxpayers are allowing Walker to lead them blindly into a mega-educational system where their taxes will pay for all schools, public and private, throughout the state.

Sure, when taxpayers realize they’ve been duped into paying for two school systems, public and private, they’re going to rebel against the cost and drastically cut public spending for both systems.

But here’s the trick: That will mean even less money for the already struggling public schools, which the majority of children attend. But it will be a hefty taxpayer subsidy for the really nice private schools of the wealthy.

And taxpayers still haven’t realized what the word “private” really means for all those voucher schools that will be sucking up their tax dollars.

Even though voucher schools receive public money, with full Republican support, they can refuse to reveal publicly how that money is spent or to release students’ test scores. That’s all private.

And voucher schools have a lot to hide. The only independent study examining the performance of comparable students in public schools and voucher schools shows students perform just as well or better in public schools.

But the new statewide system of private voucher schools thanks Wisconsin taxpayers for all those hundreds of millions of dollars anyway, suckers.


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