Archives for category: Wisconsin

This review from the National Education Policy Center by William Mathis demolishes an absurd claim about the hypothetical economic benefits of expanding Wisconsin’s voucher program. The review is actually hilarious.

Mathis reviews a report by a voucher proponent published by a libertarian, pro-voucher thinky tank, claiming that expansion of the state’s voucher program would increase the number of college graduates, increase personal wealth, and add billions to the state’s coffers. The report relies on “peer-reviewed” studies by the same author, published in pro-choice, libertarian journals that support vouchers.

Mathis writes:

There exist countless articles on school choice, ranging from general interest publications to peer-reviewed professional articles in prestigious journals. Yet the limited references in this report are drawn from a narrow, non-representative slice of the field. Eleven of the 12 selections in the bibliography are drawn from raw data sources (e.g., the Bureau of Labor Statistics) or pro-school-choice articles. The one exception is the Brookings brief, which is the basis of the human-capital claims and numbers (i.e., the claimed benefits of moving an individual from a high school graduate to a college graduate).
Yet the report overtly appeals to the strength of peer-reviewed articles to buttress its claims (p. 7).

From page 2 of the report:

This study estimates the economic impact from expanding Wisconsin’s parental choice programs by using similar methods to previous studies, the first of which has already been published in a peer-reviewed journal (Flanders & DeAngelis 2018a; Flanders & DeAngelis 2018b; DeAngelis and Flanders 2019).

Note that all three pieces are co-authored by the author of the Ripple Effect. Looking at the report’s reference section, we find that these are cites not known to peer-reviewed publi- cations, but to Tennessee’s free-market Beacon Center, to something called “School Sys- tems Reform Studies,” and to the Mississippi State University Institute for Market Studies. Searching online, one finds that the School Systems Reform Studies piece was indeed sub- sequently published in the Journal of School Choice,5 a common venue for articles touting vouchers. The paper does later cite to a peer-reviewed article that offers some support for the claim that Milwaukee voucher students are more likely to graduate high school. How- ever, this study itself has some serious limitations. Fifty-six percent (56%) of the original 6 of 12
sample were no longer enrolled in a voucher program by the time they should have been in the 12th grade. Furthermore, “Only one of the findings could be considered statistically significant at conventional levels.”

Mathis quite correctly points out that 56% of the students who enter voucher schools drop out before graduation and return to public schools, so the “higher” graduation rate from voucher schools consists of the 44% who survived.

This is a worthwhile read, if only for the laughs at the struggle of voucher proponents to ignore the multiple studies of the negative effects of vouchers from D.C., Louisiana, Indiana, and Ohio.

When the Network for Public Education issued two reports scrutinizing the failure of the federal Charter Schools Program, the second report was criticized by one Will Flanders of the far-right think tank Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, whose critique was published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s Flypaper. Flanders recently wrote a proposal to expand vouchers in Wisconsin and claimed that doing so would create an economic boom in the state. The Flanders claims were debunked by William Mathis of the National Education Policy Center.

Carol Burris of the Network for Public Education wrote about the debunking of Flanders by Mathis:

William Mathis, managing director of the National Education Policy Center, recently published a critical review of a report from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) that argued for the expansion of vouchers in Wisconsin. The co-author of the report is Will Flanders, the research director of WILL. Flanders’ report claims that if vouchers are expanded, more low-income children will graduate college, thus creating a “ripple effect” of financial benefit for the state.
Readers of this blog might remember Mr. Flanders. Several months ago, he wrote a critique of our NPE report, Still Asleep at the Wheel that was published by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation on its Flypaper blog. The blog entitled The Glaring Errors in NPE’s New Anti-charter School Report claimed that 11 of the 289 schools reviewed by NPE as part of our investigation of the Wisconsin grantees of the Federal Charter School Program were incorrectly labeled as closed.  
To identify those charters, NPE had used the Wisconsin list of closed schools. Apparently, there are some anomalies in Wisconsin listings–schools that change NCES numbers are sometimes listed as closed when they are not. When we further investigated, we found that Mr. Flanders was correct on five schools but that we were indeed correct regarding the status of the other 6 or the 11—not a very good average for Mr. Flanders given the size of the list. Ironically, as we did our review, we also found 2 closed charter schools we had missed. We made corrections. However, Mike Petrilli and Will Flanders refused to acknowledge and correct their errors beyond one school, The Banner School, no matter what evidence I presented.
Now it seems that our critic’s own work has far more glaring errors than a few mislabeled schools. 
Dr. Mathis points out a variety of problems with unsupported causal claims and poor use of research, etc. But I’ll zero in here on one part of the review: The WILL report includes two key numbers. First, it claims that voucher students are 38% more likely to graduate from college, a claim based on a single, problematic study that is inconsistent with other results and that has itself been critiqued.

Second, it claims that this 38% increase will generate a $3.2 billion increase in consumer spending and taxes. According to William Mathis, this $3.2 billion figure is the result of a substantial mathematical error: “… the trumpeted dollar figure in the report literally doesn’t add up. Lifting the voucher cap, readers are told, will generate a $3.2 billion increase in consumer spending and personal gains. But the figures presented in the report come up exactly $91 million short of $3.2 billion. This is undoubtedly just arithmetic carelessness (and it’s not clear which figures are the source of the error), but does further undermine one’s faith in the research.” The claim that vouchers will boost the economy by billions of dollars is sheer speculation.
Read what Ruth Conniff of the Wisconsin Examiner has to say about WILL and the report here. You can read the NEPC review here.

I wonder if we will see a Thomas B. Fordham blog entitled “The glaring errors in WILLs new pro-voucher report.” I suspect we will not.

Two Wisconsin legislators published an opinion piece about the harm that school choice is doing to the state’s public schools.

Jon Erpenbach and Sondy Pope object to the way that vouchers have taken money away from public schools without the compose top of the governed.

It hasn’t been long since many Wisconsinites have had to vote on referendums to keep their public school doors open, and now in this new year, our schools continue to be underfunded. This spring 50 school districts will go to referendum, with 29 seeking $915 million in operating costs alone.

During last year’s budget deliberations, Gov. Tony Evers put forth a proposal that would have made significant investments in our public schools. Many of his ideas stemmed from the Republican controlled Blue Ribbon Commission on K-12 education. Unfortunately, the task force recommendations could not make it past the Republicans on the Joint Committee on Finance, including $10.1 million from sparsity aid for rural districts compared to the Governor’s plan. Senate District 27 lost $600,000 alone due to Republican rejections of their own recommendations, with 82 other districts statewide also losing funds.Fast forward to this year, andinstead of doing their jobs and convening for a special session to address the farm crisis, Republicans chose to hold a political rally to promote voucher schools.

Unfortunately, while taxpayers will be voting on referendums this April, voucher school operators are able to take $145.5 million from property taxpayers with zero transparency, oversight or ability to vote “no.”

On Jan. 8, 2020, Senator Bewley (D-Mason), Representative Considine (D-Baraboo), and both of us introduced Senate Bill 661 (SB 661), to prohibit the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) from making reductions in the amount of state aid that is paid to school districts, unless the voters agree to the reductions by a referendum vote.

Under current law, school choice programs are able to drain funds away from public schools, and SB 661 would give power back to Wisconsinites to decide how they want their tax dollars spent.

A recent memo released by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows that vouchers caused $145 million in aid reduction to public schools. That amount is up 30% from last year, and this problem is only going to grow if it is not addressed. The trend in tax dollars going away from public schools towards unreliable voucher programs shows the decline to our education system at the expense of our taxpayers. Wisconsinites should have a choice in whether or not they want to fund two separate education programs, and that is why we introduced the bill to bring accountability back into the fold.

For-profit education is chipping away at our democracy with misinformation and misleading standards for education, with the approval of our current presidential administration. Wisconsin Democrats believe in doing what is best for our children, and unfortunately, forcing taxpayers to fund competing education systems will only hinder their future.

Sorry to have missed this great story when Jan Resseger posted it. i happened to have been down and out with the flu. This is a story I wish I could include in SLAYING GOLIATH. The perpetrators returned to the scene of their crime and are shunned!

Jan Resseger writes:

Wisconsin and Ohio have the oldest school choice programs in the United States.  Milwaukee’s voucher program is 30 years old and the Cleveland Voucher Program is 24 years old.  Both states have expanded vouchers statewide beyond the two cities where they began. It ought to be a red flag that in these two states with the oldest programs, National School Choice Week may have been more contentious than anywhere else in the country.

National School Choice Week in Wisconsin

Last week Vice President Mike Pence and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos went to Madison, Wisconsin’s capital city, to honor National School Choice Week, a celebration of vouchers and charter schools that was established and is promoted every year by groups like the American Federation for Children—the group DeVos herself helped found and to which she has regularly donated generously—and Jeb Bush’s ExcelinEd.

Pence and DeVos were not welcomed by Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor Tony Evers, who skipped the event altogether. Before he was elected governor, Evers was the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, and before that he was a public school educator. Evers has devoted his career to leading and promoting the state’s public schools.

Neither Pence nor DeVos was welcomed by the Capital Times in Madison, which editorialized: “Pence parrots the talking points of the wealthy campaign donors he has always served…. That’s what Pence did Tuesday in Madison… Pence was promoting ongoing efforts to undermine public education with the usual cabal of billionaire-funded advocates for the agenda of the Trump-Pence administration’s ‘school choice’ agenda… Out-of-state billionaires like DeVos and politicians like Pence have for years targeted Wisconsin in their efforts to promote ‘school choice’ initiatives. They got traction when one of their lackeys, Republican Gov. Scott Walker, was in office. But Walker, a Pence crony, was swept out of office in 2018 by a supporter of public education, Democrat Tony Evers.”

The Capital Times‘ editorial board adds that this year, there has been pressure against school privatization in the city of Milwaukee itself: “(I)n the spring of 2019, critics of school choice and school privatization schemes swept school board elections in Milwaukee, the state’s largest city… Key to the pushback against the ‘school choice’ advocates was the activism of African American and Latino Milwaukeeans, and the determination of groups such as Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC) and Voces de la Frontera Action, Inc. to defend public education.”

On the very same day Pence and DeVos came to Madison to extol school choice, the Capital Times‘ Briana Reilly reportedthat State Representative, Jonathan Brostoff joined fellow Democratic lawmakers and public school advocates to reintroduce a bill that would phase out Wisconsin vouchers and reinstate a Student Achievement Guarantee in Education, to reduce public school class sizes and upgrade the curriculum in participating public schools.

Executive Director of the statewide Wisconsin Public Education Network, Heather DuBois Bourenane endorsed the Public Education Reinvestment Act being introduced. First she explained specific problems with private schools that receive vouchers: “They do not answer to a locally elected school board. They do not have to follow laws protecting students with disabilities. They do not have to follow the same stringent reporting and hiring requirements as public schools. They can use curriculum that is religious, unvetted and unscientific. They can—and frequently do—‘counsel out’ students who do not meet expectations, distorting the data on their performance and creating unfunded cost burdens for local public schools. This is unethical and we know it is wrong.”

As in other states, Wisconsin’s legislature has created “school choice” programs, but the same state legislature has neglected to pass the taxes that would fund the programs. In Wisconsin and other states, vouchers and charter schools have been funded at the expense of public schools. DuBois Bourenane described the fiscal disaster thrust on Wisconsin’s public schools by ever-expanding school vouchers: “Wisconsin is spending $351,180,390.29 this year to provide taxpayer funded tuition vouchers to 43,450 students at 317 schools, nearly 100 percent of which are religious schools. We know that nearly all of the students in the statewide program already attended these private schools… There are over 860,000 children whose parents choose to send them to the public schools that are the heart of our communities; public schools that accept, embrace, and proudly serve ALL students. Yet data from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows that even as the unaccountable voucher program has been recklessly expanded, our public schools have been increasingly underserved by the state. According to the Wisconsin Budget Project, ‘In 2021, the state will invest less in public school districts than it did in 2011…. In 2021, Wisconsin school districts will receive $75 million less in state aid than in 2011 in inflation-adjusted dollars.’”

National School Choice Week In Ohio

Tomorrow, February 1, parents are scheduled to begin claiming vouchers for Ohio’s EdChoice Voucher Program for the 2020-2021 school year, but as of this morning, nobody knows what the program will look like or how many students will be able to qualify.

As Jan has previously posted, Ohio’s legislators don’t care about the public schools that most students attend. They are obsessed with charters (most of which are failing) and vouchers (even though the only research on the Ohio program shows that it harms children, who lose ground in math and make no gains in reading).

But isn’t it wonderful to see the two big Goliaths—DeVos and Pence—get a chilly reception when they arrive in Madison  to celebrate School  Voice Week? I will save this for the next edition of SLAYING GOLIATH. The Resistance is winning in Wisconsin!

As the Beatles sang, “Money can’t buy you love.”


The Eau Claire County Board was asked to endorse a resolution saluting “School Choice Week,” but homeowners turned out to denounce the loss of money from their public schools that was sent to voucher schools.

One after another, homeowners asked why they were supporting two school systems, why the money intended for their public schools was being diverted to religious schools, why their taxes were being used to subsidize the tuition of students who had never attended public schools.

That discussion followed a report by the state Department of Public Instruction showing Wisconsin taxpayers will spend $349.6 million on school vouchers this school year, up from $302 million the previous year. A total of 43,450 students are receiving voucher funds this year, an increase of 3,411, or 8.5 percent,  from last school year..

Concerns about the impact of that funding shift on public schools surfaced at a December meeting of the Eau Claire County Board, where residents spoke against a resolution proclaiming Jan. 26 to Feb. 1 as Eau Claire County “School Choice Week.” Speakers told board supervisors that school choice is just another term for voucher schools, and that taxpayer funding for those schools hurts Wisconsin’s public schools.  

After hearing from eight speakers, County Board supervisors voted 24-2 against the measure. The city of Eau Claire is home not only to a public school district but to the Regis Catholic Schools system, where 182 of the 800 students (22.8 percent) enrolled this school year receive voucher scholarships, according to DPI data. 

The County Board action in Eau Claire is a sign that public school advocates are being increasingly vocal about the expansion of private school vouchers at the expense of public school districts and making taxpayers fund two different education systems.

Yes, your voice matters. Speak up against the diversion of money from public schools to privately operated charters and religious school vouchers.

Eight homeowners spoke out, and the board voted 24-2 NOT to pass a resolution supporting “school choice week.”

“School Choice Week” is “Defund Public Schools” week.

Do not celebrate the underfunding of your public schools!

The Resistance has opened a new front in Wisconsin!

The proper place for accountability is at the top: with those who decide how much money is available, and those who write the laws and the mandates and the regulations.

The legislature determines whether funding is available to reduce class size, to provide adequate staff, to offer appropriate compensation to those who work in the schools.

The lawmakers should be held accountable!

Get active! Get involved!

This notice was distributed by Heather DuBois Bourenane <>


The Department of Public Instruction issues its school and district report cards today, a legislative mandate which requires our students and schools to be held accountable for many things they cannot control.

It’s only fair to hold our lawmakers accountable for the one thing they can control: their votes.

Today we have issued a new tool to help hold them accountable: our first ever Legislative Report Cards that help connect the dots between the performance of our legislators and the needs of our children.

Despite the countless successes of students and public schools around the state, we have invested in widening the gaps between “haves” and “have nots” — gaps that are reflected very clearly in standardized test results.  We know that Wisconsin has the worst racial performance gaps in the nation. We know that our funding formula is profoundly inequitable, unpredictable, and inadequate. We know we are worst in the nation for how we fund special education. Our support for bilingual and bicultural needs – which increased by zero dollars in this year’s budget – has been described as “pitiful.”

The 2019-2021 state budget made gains in some areas, but failed to even meet the 2/3 funding mark. 40% of districts received less aid this year than last year. We did not move the needle for our kids. How can we continue to hold our kids and schools “accountable” but not those whose votes reflect the state’s failure to meet our most basic expectations?

You asked for a tool for holding legislators accountable, and we created one: a rubric for assessing budget votes based on the priority needs of our students as outlined by the bipartisan Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding and put forward in the budget requests of Governor Evers.

Click here to read the full release and access our Legislative Report Cards for all Wisconsin lawmakers:

Then use the tools below to demand better. This isn’t about people – it’s about policy. It’s not about politics – it’s about what’s best for our kids. Take time to tell your local funding story and share details on what might have been different in your district if nearly a billion dollars hadn’t been cut from the proposed education budget this year. Look for local releases from our partners around the state and use them to shine a flashlight on Wisconsin’s school funding crisis.

Whether your lawmaker “exceeds” or “fails to meet” our high expectations, we all need to work together to ensure every student in every public school has equal opportunity thrive. We believe we can make that happen, and we call on all of you to join us in holding lawmakers accountable for making success a reality for every child in every public school in Wisconsin.



Contacts: Heather DuBois Bourenane, Executive Director, Wisconsin Public Education Network, (608) 572-1696,; Dr. Julie Underwood, President of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools board of directors,, (608) 469-2287

View this release online here.


Lawmakers Held Accountable for Votes on Education with Report Cards

As districts statewide receive state-mandated report cards, public education advocates demand an assessment of lawmakers who set budgets that determine schools’ ability to succeed


As the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction issues its annual school and district report cards today, the nonpartisan Wisconsin Public Education Network is doing the same for state legislators.


The organization’s Legislative Report Cards provide much-needed political context for understanding how the DPI assesses school and district performance. They assess state lawmakers across five categories: K-12 budget overall, special education, bilingual/bicultural needs, mental health and public funding of private schools. The report cards are available to the public at


The DPI’s school and district report cards fulfill a state mandate to hold all schools “accountable” to taxpayers. That mandate was put forward in 2011, the same year Wisconsin saw the largest cuts to education funding in state history.


In conjunction with its Legislative Report Cards, the Wisconsin Public Education Network has issued the following statement:


“In Wisconsin, our lawmakers use report cards to hold our children and their schools accountable for circumstances and state-level policy decisions that are beyond their control. How well a school does on a report card is often closely connected to factors like revenue limits, the number of students living in poverty, the number of English-language learners and the resources available for serving students with disabilities. 


What the report cards do not reveal is the fact that Wisconsin is last in the nation in state support for students with disabilities, and last in the nation in state support for English language learners. The state does not live up to its commitment to support student mental needs and we lack a coherent state policy to support children challenged by poverty. We can trace these failures back to the statehouse, not the classroom.


 It only makes sense that we hold lawmakers accountable for their education votes.


Parents and communities are told that school report cards represent a single ‘snapshot’ of student performance, but that snapshot becomes a frozen image impacting property values and undermining the successes that cannot be accounted for using test scores and other data points. Research shows that test scores often measure little more than economic status. Holding our schools accountable for student needs while failing to provide sufficient resources to ensure student success is unfair and unethical.


Senator Luther Olsen has often said the state report cards should be used as a ‘flashlight’ and ‘not a hammer’ to demonstrate where we can best meet the needs of our students and schools.



We present these legislative report cards in the same spirit. They reflect a single snapshot: a picture of the budget votes of the elected officials who determine how much state aid is provided to our public schools. 


In 2019, Wisconsin legislators approved a budget that cut nearly $1 billion from the governor’s proposed public education budget, withholding much-needed aids for special education, mental health and English language learners, while failing to meet the much-touted goal of providing two-thirds of school funding.


Given the state’s continued refusal to provide the funding needed to close Wisconsin’s opportunity gaps, we are holding lawmakers accountable for their education votes.


The 2019 Legislative Report Cards reflect a failure to meet the expectations that were outlined clearly by the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, at the budget hearings of the Joint Committee on Finance and by parents, board members, educators and school leaders statewide.


Public education should not be a partisan issue. Support for schools should not fall along party lines. We strongly encourage all who care about great public schools to take time to provide targeted support and encourage improvement from those legislators who fail to meet Wisconsin’s high expectations for supporting student success. Every child attending public school in Wisconsin deserves an equal opportunity to succeed, and our lawmakers, just as our schools, must be held accountable for making that opportunity equally accessible to all.”



About Wisconsin Public Education Network (WPEN)


Wisconsin Public Education Network is a nonpartisan grassroots coalition supporting strong public schools that provide equal opportunity for all students to thrive. The Network is a project of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools (WAES), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Contributions can be sent to: P.O. Box 6592, Monona, WI 53716. Learn more at


Foxconn is the giant Taiwanese tech company that manufactures electronic products for major tech companies around the world. They are known for poor working conditions and long hours, also for employee suicides on the job. When Scott Walker was governor of Wisconsin, his great coup (or so he thought) was to woo Foxconn to open five “innovation centers” in the state. This was supposed to create jobs. Foxconn won billions in tax breaks and incentives. That was 2017. But not a single innovation center has opened, and according to this article, none is on track to open. While Walker made grandiose plans for Foxconn, he cut the budgets of schools and universities, which is the usual place to spur innovation.

Looks like he was hoaxed.

Electronics manufacturer Foxconn’s promised Wisconsin “innovation centers,” which are to employ hundreds of people in the state if they ever get built, are officially on hold after spending months empty and unused, as the company focuses on meeting revised deadlines on the LCD factory it promised would now open by next year. The news, reported earlier today by Wisconsin Public Radio, is another inexplicable twist in the nearly two-year train wreck that is Foxconn’s US manufacturing plans.

The company originally promised five so-called innovation centers throughout the state would that employ as many as 100 to 200 people each in high-skilled jobs, with the Milwaukee center promising as many as 500. Those jobs were to complement the more than 13,000 jobs Foxconn said its initial Wisconsin electronics manufacturing factory would bring to the US, in exchange for billions in tax breaks and incentives that Governor Scott Walker granted the company back in 2017.


Carol Burris is the executive director of the Network for Public Education. She is a lifelong educator, first a teacher of Spanish, then an award-winning principal of a high school in New York.

She writes here to explain briefly why charter schools are unnecessary and are not public schools.

“When I was a high school principal, I also ran an alternative school called The Greenhouse. It was small–its average enrollment was 17 students. The students were older–juniors or seniors–who were credit-deficient or who, for personal reasons, needed an alternative setting.

“Greenhouse saved lives and reduced our dropout rate to less than 1%. It was run (and is still run) by a wonderful teacher, Frank Van Zant. I gave Frank ample resources with teachers from South Side going to the school to provide content instruction for one or two periods a day. I trusted him and gave him freedom. It has (and still has) a full-time social worker. Hours for students were more flexible. Instruction was small group. I called the Greenhouse a delicate ecology. I was careful to place in the program only those students who really needed it.
“Our students on suspension also benefitted. They would receive instruction there at the end of the day so that they were well educated and counseled when out of school and could more easily transition back.
“All of that innovation and I did not need “a charter” to do it. The ultimate authority was the School Board. The kids who graduated received a South Side diploma. In fact, by the time I left, 100% graduated with a NYS Regents diploma.
“I am weary of hearing that charter schools are public schools. That is a lie.  Public schools are governed by the public, not by a private corporation.
“Charter advocates will say Wisconsin has “public charters” because they are authorized by the school district. However, all of those district authorized schools, thanks to Scott Walker,  are now run by for-profit or nonprofit corporations. Publicly-governed charter schools without a private board are not allowed.  I do not believe there is even one public charter school–that is a charter school run by an elected school board–in the United States. Is there one left?”


Yes, charters and vouchers take money from public schools, which enroll nearly 90% of students.

In Tuesday’s election, a pro-public school slate swept the Milwaukee school board. It will be interesting to see what happens with that city’s heavy dose of privatized charters and vouchers.

In Wisconsin, a legislator revealed that school choice removes $193 million in state aid from public schools. 

“MADISON, Wis. — A new report shows voucher and charter schools will reduce aid to public schools by nearly $193 million.

“Democratic state Rep. Sondy Pope released an analysis Thursday that the Legislative Fiscal Bureau prepared for her. The report shows voucher and charter schools will consume $192.9 million that could have gone to public schools this year.”

There’s only one pot of State money for K-12 schools. Dividing it three ways makes all sectors suffer.