Private schools line up for public cash

According to the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI), more private schools are seeking to cash in with public tax dollars during the 2016-17 school year through the unaccountable school voucher program. Under Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican legislature, state law has been changed to allow state school aid to be diverted away from local K-12 public schools to provide tuition vouchers for qualifying students attending private and religious schools. DPI reports that a total of 135 private and religious schools have registered to participate.

One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross commented, “The appalling attacks on public education by Gov. Walker and his Republican cohorts in the legislature roll on. In the next school year even more private and religious schools are coming with hands out to take funding directly away from our local K-12 public schools.”

The private school voucher program, originally limited to the Milwaukee area has been dramatically expanded under Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature. Private and religious schools statewide are now allowed to participate and receive public tax dollars to pay for students’ tuition. Under the provisions in the 2015 state budget, funds for the voucher program will now come directly out of funds that would have otherwise gone to local K-12 public schools.

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), the voucher program is estimated to cost Wisconsin taxpayers over $1.1 billion between 2011 and the end of the current two-year budget cycle in 2017. Meanwhile, public education in Wisconsin has suffered some of the largest budget cuts in the nation, with the LFB reporting that K-12 public school funding has been cut by just over $1 billion when compared to funding levels in the 2010-11 school year, before Walker and Republicans took control of state government.

Information from the DPI suggests that while the scope of the voucher program has been dramatically expanded, those receiving tuition vouchers were already attending private schools. Nearly 80 percent of students participating in the statewide expansion of the voucher program were not previously in public schools and nearly 75 percent were already attending a private school.

Ross noted that powerful special interests are lobbying for increasing education privatization and pro-voucher mega-donors from across the country have larded Republican politicians with campaign contributions. Recently updated research by One Wisconsin Institute exposed the Bradley Foundation, headed by Gov. Walker’s gubernatorial and ill-fated presidential campaign chair, as a leading player in the campaign to gut public education and promote the unaccountable, radical privatization of K-12 education. The Milwaukee-based group gave over $108 million from 2005 to 2014 to organizations, think tanks, journalists and right-wing academics participating in a massive propaganda in support of education privatization.

“Right-wing ideologues are willing to spend big money on their agenda that undermines local public schools and shifts public tax dollars into their unaccountable education privatization experiment. And it’s the children and taxpayers of Wisconsin paying the price for Gov. Walker and Republican legislators selling us and our public schools out to the special interests,” concluded Ross.