I have always opposed the private school voucher program as devised by Wisconsin. Voucher schools do not have the social contract with their young charges and their parents that public school are required to provide by law. That contract states that public schools will provide an education for Wisconsin children ages 4-21. There are few qualifications that remove a child from public education, and even then, the law of the land has required that school districts must provide alternative education for students that are expelled so they may get their diploma or its equivalent. Enter voucher programs for students living in poverty who live in poorly performing school districts. On its surface, such programs seem to be shining lifelines for parents who care about the quality of their children's education. Delving deep into its structure reveals that the Wisconsin voucher program has failed to live up to expectations on any number of fronts one wishes to scrutinize. I'll talk about three of my pet peeves here.
The first issue I have with voucher programs lies in the qualification of religious private schools for the program. Separation of church and state and all that... I believe I have discussed my second concern on this blog in the past. The fact that our lazy legislature allowed these voucher programs to exist for over a decade before making them accountable to the same NCLB standards that public schools must answer to always appalled me. Then, in 2011, they finally required voucher schools to take the WKCE and, lo and behold, the voucher schools performed at or below their public school counterparts (http://host.madison.com/ct/news/local/education/campus_connection/are-private-voucher-schools-failing-to-deliver-as-promised/article_c3c0e074-7866-11e1-9849-0019bb2963f4.html). God in Heaven! All that state aid stolen from public schools flushed down the proverbial pipe.
The article in the link below illustrates just how truly awful this statistic is, and exposes the real reason the voucher program as it exists in Wisconsin should be designated unconstitutional. The article discusses how voucher schools will accept public school students with disabilities or emotional problems, keep them until the third Friday in September, when the headcount of all Wisconsin public schools is taken for the all-important state aid determination. Once the voucher school has kept the "problem" student long enough to qualify for the state aid, they explain to the parents that the school can no longer keep their kid because of all the disruptions he or she causes in class. Who among you think there was ever an intention on the part of the voucher school to make a concerted effort to educate such students? If so, I have a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. But I digress. Voucher schools are allowed to deny admittance to students for whatever reason. They are private and may not be told who they must accept. I suspect voucher schools would never have accepted some of the students they accept through the voucher program without the six grand in funding dangling in front of them.
After the dust settles in October, when all the "problem" kids have been kicked out of private voucher schools and dutifully returned to a public school that has a social obligation to provide for them a proper education, two things happen that stick in the craw of most tax-payers. The first thing is that the funding for the student remains with the voucher school for that year. More precisely, since the kid will be absent from the voucher school enrollment at the January head count, the voucher school will end up with about half of the state per-student funding for giving the student a chair to sit in for about one twelfth of the school year (three weeks). Meanwhile, the struggling public school that takes the student that has been booted by the voucher school will only get half the state aid for providing 11/12 of a year of instruction. This doesn't even begin to address the emotional upheaval for the student who is already delicate to begin with for having to attend two schools in less than a month. Usually these students qualify as students at risk of some kind, whether it be disability, poverty or emotional and social needs. Many more resources are required to educate them so that they reach their potential, but our government doesn't care. This is known as an "unfunded mandate." Both state and federal governments rightly require a proper education for at-risk students, but don't put their money where their laws are. So the additional funds necessary to educate at-risk kids comes from the general education fund, further depleting an already perilously low coffer. Allowing voucher schools to kick out at-risk kids in September is tantamount to stealing from the public schools, not to mention despicable and deplorable treatment of a fragile kid, which I find far more offensive than the tax theft. Using our most vulnerable citizens to line the pockets of private schools is atrocious and our legislators ought to feel some kind of shame about this practice, though I doubt they will.
The corollary to this voucher school practice of accepting troubled students only to expel them three weeks later follows. If you allow this practice unchecked for years (as it appears has been happening), the at-risk student population of public schools becomes enriched while that of voucher schools is depleted. So, if a voucher community has an average at-risk student population of 50%, the public schools of that community may see the at-risk student population of 75% whereas the voucher schools see only 25%. At-risk students often struggle with achievement level on the WKCE but even though voucher schools selectively remove students with the potential of performing poorly on the WKCE these voucher schools only performed at or below their public school counterparts on achievement testing. Let that sink in for a few minutes. One conclusion one may draw from this data suggests that not only are public school holding their own against voucher schools, but they are exceeding their achievement levels while meeting their moral obligation to all students in their district. Thank a teacher next time you see one. And if you know a legislator, ask them to think about this inescapable conclusion.