Archives for category: Wisconsin

Courtney Bowie is a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program. In this article, she describes the ACLU’s efforts to stop discrimination against students with disabilities in Wisconsin’s voucher program. Privatization, she says, is promoting segregation and rolling back decades of legal advances for students of color and students with disabilities.


In Wisconsin and elsewhere, voucher supporters have fought efforts by the U.S. Department of Justice to oversee their voucher programs.


Bowie writes:


There are now over 20 states and the District of Columbia that use public funds to subsidize private school enrollment, whether it’s a tax credit for parents of students attending private schools or voucher programs, like the one in Wisconsin, that give a student a taxpayer-funded voucher worth a certain amount to pay private school tuition. These programs are touted as giving poor students, often in so-called “failing districts,” the same “choice” that wealthy students have. In Wisconsin and Indiana, these programs are springing up statewide and in public school districts that are not failing. The argument that these programs are an escape from failing school districts is rapidly falling apart as more and more programs are statewide and aimed at decreasing the tuition costs of students’ families who already can afford private schools.


As these public subsidies for private schools expand throughout the country, the civil rights umbrella available to public school students is at risk of folding. In some states like Georgia and Alabama, private schools benefiting from voucher or tax credit programs were founded as segregation academies to thwart federal integration efforts. While the program in Milwaukee and its school district serve almost entirely students of color, as “school choice” spreads around the country, the stage is set for these programs to become even more exclusionary and segregated. If states and local communities permit this to continue, they will cement the public funding of separate schools for only select groups of students, which evidence shows will disproportionately exclude racial minorities, students with disabilities, religious minorities, and LGBT students. This flies in the face of what we have known for the 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education — separate is not equal….


Voucher supporters in Wisconsin say Washington has declared war on them when it’s clear the Justice Department only wants to ensure school privatization doesn’t undermine the hard-fought gains of educational equity in the places most historically resistant to it. The only logical conclusion from this response is that voucher supporters fear oversight and want to continue to operate in a civil rights vacuum.


If that is their fear, then we know what the true purpose of Wisconsin’s voucher program is. It is to create segregated school systems, both in terms of race and in terms of disability. The result is a public school district deprived of the resources to educate its students and left with those most difficult to educate.


Stopping this from getting even worse would be a war worth fighting.





According to newly released documents, “prosecutors believe Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 Republican candidate for president, was at the center of a nationwide “criminal scheme” to illegally coordinate fundraising with outside conservative groups, according to previously secret court documents released Thursday.”

This letter was written by Scott Wittkopf of the Forward Institute in Wisconsin to the Senate Education Committee about a bill to create a new “model academic standards board” consisting of political appointees, not educational experts.

March 6, 2014

To Wisconsin State Senate Education Committee Members: Senator Luther Olsen, Chair
Senator Paul Farrow, Vice Chair
Senator Alberta Darling

Senator Leah Vukmir Senator Richard Gudex Senator John Lehman Senator Timothy Cullen Senator Nikiya Harris Senator Kathleen Vinehout

Dear Chairman Olsen and Education Committee Members,

Today, the Senate Education Committee will hold a public hearing pertaining to SB 619, which would create a “model academic standards board” in Wisconsin – shifting responsibility for the creation of academic standards from a non-partisan group of education experts to an assemblage of political appointees. I am writing this letter to voice my opposition to SB 619 in the strongest terms, as this gross politicization and ideology have no place in educating our children.

In Wisconsin and our communities statewide, we invest in public education because it provides a return more valuable than any sum of money. Public education is the only way we can provide EVERY child the opportunity to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to pursue what is meaningful to them; and in turn, live a prosperous and meaningful life.

This is not a partisan issue. We have scores of legitimate, academic research which shows us what that education should include, in order to fulfill the responsibility we have as a community to provide children with the greatest educational knowledge and opportunity. In SB619, this legislature and the authors would abdicate that responsibility to a partisan group of political appointees. In fact, the majority of the members proposed in SB619 would be political appointees. In today’s political climate, this would assure abdication of that responsibility to the political and ideological interests with the greatest financial influence. In any terms, this is an absurd proposal. I find it highly objectionable to cede responsibility of education standards to any political appointee from any party. The future of our state is too important.

I also object to the Committee’s consideration of Dr. Duke Pesta as an “expert” in educational standards. With all due respect to Dr. Pesta and his expertise as a Shakespearean scholar, his area of focus and expertise is certainly not educational pedagogy or curriculum. In fact, Dr. Pesta does have a vested interest in the expansion of home schooling and public financing of Christian education curriculum, even to the point of advocating for public resources for expansion of ideological religious positions. Dr. Pesta, in serving in his position as the Freedom Project’s Education Director , works for the American Opinion Foundation. As many of you must already know, the AOF is the 501c3 arm of the John Birch Society. The John Birch Society’s express mission for education is “…to provide educational materials…develop and maintain course curriculum for grades K-12 homeschoolers.”page1image22360page1image21256

This committee has a constitutional obligation to address the educational needs of our children through the best means of providing them with equal opportunity to pursue what is meaningful through skills and knowledge. That is fundamental to our democracy, and fundamental to our investment in every child’s education.

In SB 619, and the consideration of Dr. Pesta’s testimony as “expert” on this matter, the Senate Education Committee is abdicating its responsibility to political and religious ideology as reflected in the bill. For these reasons, I urge you to table SB619, and not pass it out of committee.

Respectfully submitted,

Scott Wittkopf

Chair, Forward Institute,Inc. 

Senator Kathleen Vinehout revealed a plan hatched behind closed doors to close 5% of thestate’s schools every year and turn them over to private corporations.

She wrote:

“The latest version of the bill was crafted behind closed doors; unlike three years ago when a wide-ranging group developed a system to test and report the progress of all students attending school with public money. Private school advocates publically agreed to the same public school accountability standards but privately lobbied for something different.

“The bill reversed current law requiring all students be tested using the same type of exam. This bill allowed private schools to choose their own type of assessment and even choose the students who took the test – allowing them to game the system.

“Concealed in the bill was a way to gradually close more and more public schools or turn them over to independent private charter operators.

“For the next several years, 5% of public schools must be named as failing – even if those schools weren’t failing by current standards. With few exceptions, schools that failed for three years would be required to close or be operated by an independent private charter management company with a minimum five-year contract. Local school boards would have little authority over this company for five years. For Milwaukee, this change would apply to schools that failed for just one year.”

She said the bill is “a dream for out-of-state charter management companies.”

Thanks to blogger TeacherKen for drawing my attention to this startling story about a failed voucher school in Milwaukee.

A small religious school called LifeSkills Academy closed “in the dead of night” in December, after collecting $200,000 in taxpayer funds for the year. It became a voucher school in 2008 and had collected some 2 million dollars since then. By the time it closed, its enrollment had dwindled to only 66 students.

In the 2012-2013 school year, only one of its 66 students was proficient in reading or math.

Recall that Governor Scott Walker wants more voucher schools in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin Republican legislators in the Assembly have introduced a proposal to open many more charters across the state, as well as to increase the number of authorizers of new charters. The new charters would take funding away from existing public schools and would be non-union. This legislation continues the radical assault on public education in Wisconsin and the extremist drive to privatize public education.

At present, most of the state’s nearly 200 charter schools are operated by districts and staffed with district employees. The proposed legislation would eliminate these charters, which might become magnet schools.

Similar legislation was previously rejected by the Senate Republican caucus.

There is always hope that moderate Republicans will slow the radicals’ efforts to destroy public education in Wisconsin. In most towns, the public school is a traditional, revered institution. True conservatives don’t blow up traditional institutions.

Think about it:

“When you wage war on the public schools, you’re attacking the mortar that holds the community together. You’re not a conservative, you’re a vandal.”

― Garrison Keillor, “Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts from the Heart of America”

A progressive Wisconsin newspaper reports that “Reign of Error” has thrown voucher advocates onto the f
Defensive. Despite the obvious failure of vouchers in Milwaukee, Governor Scott Walker has expanded the voucher program to a larger geographical area and lifted the income limits for participants. His goal becomes clear: he has no interest in saving poor children from “failing public schools,” but destroying Wisconsin’s public school system and creating a market system. Markets never serve the needs of the poor. Markets favor the haves, not the have-nots.

“Reign of Error” is an antidote and guide to fighting the privatization movement. Everything they sell is failing. Everything they promote lacks evidence behind it. Some innocents have gone along with the siren song of “choice,” perhaps being too young to remember that “choice” was the battle cry of segregationists.

Don’t let the privatizers, libertarians, and government haters fool you. Defend public education. It belongs to the public, not to the entrepreneurs.

At the behest of Governor Scott Walker, the Wisconsin legislature expanded the voucher program statewide, even though it did not raise test scores in Milwaukee over the past 22 years.

As critics of the program feared, 75% of those who applied for vouchers are are not currently enrolled in public schools. Two-thirds are enrolled in private schools now.

Instead of helping needy students “escape from failing schools,” the usual claim of voucher proponents, the program transfers funds to private institutions, religious and secular.

Governor Walker is doing as he planned: strangling public education.

A reader from Milwaukee sent this comment:

“You would think there would be accountability, but here in Milwaukee we have had religious school choice and charter for a number of years.

“There is practically no accountability to the state DPI regarding certification of staff, assessments, curriculum, open records, etc. We are requiring them to seek some type of private school accreditation, but give them multiple chances to achieve it. The same with fiscal responsibility. The genie is truly out of the bottle in Wisconsin, and I fear there is no hope unless suburban and rural areas realize very soon that money is being siphoned from their schools to the detriment of their children’s education.

“Oh, I should add that as of July 1st, a tax deduction is now in place for all families that send their children to private schools. It can be as much as 10,000 dollars per child
for high school. This, of course, means less tax money for public schools.”

A comment from a reader:


Dear Readers,

I have been in public education for more than 30 years. I am a recognized leader and have received many awards for excellence and advocacy for children. Wisconsin right now is the “wild west” of educational practice.

I am deeply committed to excellence in practice. I will advocate for strong models for quality improvement and student learning. As a district Carnegie Foundation is completing a case study on our work with a focus on our quality improvement model. I am working with among the best educators I have had the great privilege to work. The early results are remarkable, and I am confident we will be a national model of excellence.

Our Governor and our legislators are walking away from the needs of our schools and our community. Each of our schools is exceeding state expectations. We are in the top 10% performing school districts in the state.

We have lost 41% of our state aid, our local property taxes have gone up by 19%, and our local legislators have each voted to expand private vouchers across the state of Wisconsin, and an income tax credit for parents sending their children to private schools. Our community will off set the costs of this for the entire state of Wisconsin because we are considered a property rich districts. Our community is middle income, but we are the 3rd largest manufacturing community in the state. Therefore, our property values hold at a greater rate than the values around us.

The politics nationally, and within are state, are losing site of community values, the best interest of local economies, and the future for our state.

As a state we indicate we are committed to quality performance, and preparing students for strong post-secondary transitions.

Locally, we will continue to cut 2 million dollars of programming each year under the revenue limits as our legislators advance a dual system for education.

They know and have acknowledged that they will not be able to sustain adequate funding for public schools.

We have among the strongest schools in the nation. We continue to advance policy that will unravel what our local communities value for their children.

The local legislators have stopped advancing policy to reflect local values. They are passing budgets at 2 in the morning with less than an hour of debate. There is no public input and no evidence to support the voucher expansion.

Wisconsin policy makers are walking away from the strength of their schools.


Pat Greco
School District of Menomonee Falls


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