September 28, 2023

Christian Phelps: We must stand up to school privatizers for the sake of Wisconsin kids

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Christian Phelps works with the Wisconsin Public Education Network, and he has big concerns about the school privatization movement.

The problems facing Wisconsin public schools have multiple causes, but we need to address a major one: the school privatization movement. As part of a compromise struck behind closed doors between Gov. Tony Evers and the Republican leaders of our gerrymandered legislature, we’re watching helplessly as a record increase of our public dollars go to private schools participating in Wisconsin’s several voucher programs.

While public schools get 33.3% of their special education costs reimbursed by the state, Special Needs Vouchers going to private schools are funded at no less than 90%.

Let’s be crystal clear about the uneven impact of this policy. Students with disabilities, students in poverty, and students of color bear the brunt. Public schools, which, unlike private voucher schools,  are mandated to serve everyone who comes through the doors, are cutting programs and scrambling for resources as special ed costs eat up more and more of their budget.

Meanwhile, high schools participating in the statewide Parental Choice Program are enjoying a staggering 37% increase in state funds. Many private schools are now guaranteed over $12,000 per voucher student — more than the $11,000 per pupil than many public school districts are even allowed to spend. Year after year, DPI data show that the majority of participants in the program never went to a public school. Yet taxpayers are covering their private school tuition, to the detriment of public schools that serve everyone.

Wisconsin students deserve schools that are fully-resourced and that fully protect their rights and freedoms to learn, play and thrive. Even when they receive public funds, private schools are under no obligation to follow nondiscrimination laws pertaining to gender, sexual orientation, religion, or disability status. They can, and in some cases they do, impose curricula rooted in religious practices and political dogma, blatantly pushing disputable opinions and discriminatory political agendas as if they are facts.

We can’t make good on students’ right to a free and joyful education if we can’t hold our schools accountable. Every public dollar siphoned off to private schools in Wisconsin means less local control and public participation. Publicly funded private schools operate outside  open records laws, outside the supervision of publicly-elected school boards, without  transparency or public accountability.

Read the full piece here. 

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