by Colleen Flaherty
Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-led state legislature are once again working on passing a budget that goes after public schools and hurts Wisconsin students and families.
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The current budget up for consideration in the legislature will expand the taxpayer-funded private school voucher program statewide, which was proposed by Walker earlier this year.
“Our children our caught in an ideologically driven expansion of school vouchers that is financially reckless and academically unproven,” said State Superintendent Tony Evers in a press conference. “Taxpayers across Wisconsin will be increasingly on the hook to pay for more and more privately educated students whose tuition is currently paid for by their folks.”
This is following Walker’s last budget, in which he cut $1.6 billion from public education, the fourth largest cut to K-12 schools in the country and the largest cut to education in Wisconsin’s history.
On top of this, the budget now includes a tax deduction for private school tuition. The deduction ranges up to $4,000 per year for grade school students and $10,000 for high school students per year per student, resulting in a tax cut of $30 million in 2014-15. Currently, there is no deduction for private school tuition in Wisconsin.
“To make this budget even worse for public school children, legislators added a double dip provision to benefit private schools by providing tax deductions for private school tuition. Unquestionably, this is a budget that would cause irreparable damage to public schools,” said Mary Bell, junior high library media specialist and former high school English teacher.
As a comparison, the maximum tax deduction per student per year for college tuition is $6,543, and couples earning more than $100,000 are not eligible. There is no income limit for the private school tuition tax deduction.
As for the voucher expansion, the budget currently includes a cap of the number of eligible students. However, educators fear that these limits won’t last.
“It’s a myth that enrollment caps on vouchers will remain,” said Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. “The writing’s on the wall – caps will be lifted as soon as possible as was done in Milwaukee and Racine. The result will be a flood of tax dollars best used in public school classrooms pouring into private schools.
“Wisconsin educators want to improve their schools so every student has more opportunities for success. The way to improve public schools is not to move tax dollars to private institutions, where there is no accountability and fewer standards.”
Walker’s radical policies go beyond hurting students and schools. His agenda has made Wisconsin worse for middle- and low-income families:
- Despite running on a platform of job creation, Walker has driven Wisconsin to 44th in the nation for private-sector job creation, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics, and 49th in economic outlook according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
- His budget will include a $651 million income tax cut that favors the highest earners.
- The “fiscally conservative” budget will result in a $500 million deficit for the economically hurting state, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
- Walker turned down millions of federal dollars for the expansion of Medicaid, which will cost Wisconsin $119 million and nearly 85,000 poor people will not be covered.
Despite these chilling numbers, Wisconsin State Senator Tim Cullen is hoping to fight back:
“Our public school teachers, principals, and administrators have given too much sweat equity, school pride, and hometown devotion to allow legislative leaders to diminish their work in favor of an unaccountable privatization of our school system,” said Cullen.
“I believe there is a chance that the governor’s new voucher expansion plan could be changed before the budget is passed. I assure you that I will be working with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to try to stop this unfair voucher plan.”