by Félix Pérez
Not satisfied with his radical crusade over the last two years to strip funding from public education and silence the voice of workers and their families, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker issued a budget proposal yesterday that drains money from neighborhood schools to expand private school vouchers and flat-lines funding for public school students.
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Walker is proposing increasing by at least nine percent taxpayer funding provided to unaccountable private and religious schools participating in the 20 plus-year voucher experiment that has failed to raise student achievement. By comparison, his budget freezes education resources available to neighborhood public schools by providing no increase to school revenue caps.
While Walker claims he is increasing funding for public schools, a closer look at his budget proposal reveals the proposed new state dollars outside of revenue caps are dedicated to performance, from rewards for high-performing schools to resources for student testing and a new teacher evaluation system.
Educators aren’t being fooled by Walker’s slogans and public relations blitz.
Mary Bell, a junior high library media specialist and former high school English teacher, called Walker’s budget a “clear example of how far the governor intends to go to dismantle public education in our state.”
Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the leading voice for the state’s 865,000 public school students and educators, added:
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker used his 2013-15 budget address to spin phrases designed to create an illusion that his plans for education are in the best interest of citizens. Parents, teachers, education support professionals, school board members and administrators see past the lip-service and recognize that flat-lining public school funding while at the same time expanding taxpayer funding for private schools will harm neighborhood public schools.
Adding to the financial squeeze neighborhood schools face because of the expansion of private school vouchers and cuts directed by Walker in his last budget, the governor is also rejecting an increase in the revenues public schools are allowed to raise from state and local property taxpayers.
Deb Sybell, a WEAC legislative specialist, said Walker’s proposal sets a “very dangerous precedent,” adding, “The governor’s budget will end up eroding local control and the ability of school boards to meet the unique educational needs of its students.”
Private voucher schools, said Sybell, unlike public schools, can and do turn away enrolled students after taking taxpayer money, and there is no consistent evidence that vouchers, which drain scared resources from the students who need them most, improve student achievement.
Steve Strieker, a Janesville teacher and blogger, cautioned Wisconsinites not to be taken in by slick voucher marketing campaigns cloaked in free-market rhetoric and funded by the billionaire Koch brother’s Americans for Prosperity. “For the free market enthusiasts, the free market fairy will work its invisible hand magic and solve many of the problems plaguing our public schools by expanding privately-run, publicly-funded voucher schools.
“For those of us in public education, we know better. There is no magic in solving the complex socioeconomic problems dragging down too many of our students and schools.”