October 24, 2022

Jeffrey Leverich: Universal vouchers: the undemocratization of our education system

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In a guest column for the Cap Times, Stoughton resident Jeffrey Leverich explains the history behind Wisconsin’s public schools, and why vouchers threaten that tradition.

With statehood in 1848, Wisconsin’s Constitution established the office of state superintendent and stipulated, “The legislature shall provide by law for the establishment of district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable; and such schools shall be free and without charge for tuition to all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years.”

Aspiring to advance equal education, the state’s funding system evolved to readdress disparities found in local wealth, but efforts to weaken the foundation of public education began in 1990 with the creation of voucher schools in Milwaukee, which opened the door for further expansion ever since.

The Legislature allocates funding for state programs including public education. The bulk of school aid goes into a single pot of “equalized aid” that is disbursed to districts based on their enrollment and property values. The amount of school aid is set each year and subtractions from that pot reduce available support for districts.

Voucher funding takes state aid away from public schools and gives it to private schools instead, with allotments based on the number of eligible private kids in each district. Public schools are forced to levy their loss in state funding, increasing property taxes on local residents.

Universal vouchers will divert billions in state aid away from public school students in the years ahead, driving up local taxes to buffer the loss while creating two systems of publicly funded education. Voucher expansion has little to do with improving opportunities. The majority of voucher recipients were already attending private schools, and many regions of Wisconsin have few private alternatives.

Where is the support for vouchers coming from. In Wisconsin, it’s the same folks as always.

Schemes to privatize the public sector have roosted here at home. Powerful economic interests pursue personal profit from the billions spent to support the common good — and wealthy extremists want to impose their own religious and economic worldviews by controlling once-public systems.

Vouchers open the door to private equity by moving money from beneficial public programs to the private sector; that’s why they were created. The commodification of our schools will unravel public control and turn students into extractive centers of private profit.

With universal vouchers, powerful industries and ideological extremists could start their own schools supported by state funding.

Read the full op-ed here. 

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