Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was poised, as of press time, to sign into law on June 30 the most radical expansion of vouchers for private (mostly religious) schools in the nation.
The scheme would increase voucher payments by nearly 12% for K-8 enrollees and 22% for high school enrollees, as well as creating hefty tax deductions for private (that’s mostly parochial) school parents.
Republican voucher backers say they want “a voucher in every backpack.” Education experts across the state have opposed creating what amounts to a second publicly funded education system. In the first and second year of the new scheme, vouchers would be limited to low-income families and to 500 students and 1,000 students respectively. After that, the caps are sure to be expanded or removed. Milwaukee’s voucher program started with 341 students in 1990 and now has nearly 25,000 students, with over 21,000 of them attending religious schools.
Of the current 112 voucher schools in Milwaukee, only 16 are not religiously affiliated.
State Education Superintendent Tony Evers strongly opposes voucher expansion and warns: “Let’s be clear, no cap on voucher enrollment or income limits has ever stayed in place over the past 20 years. History shows, and I predict, these caps are temporary. And, the result will be more and more funding pulled out of public school classrooms and put into private and religious schools.”
Publicly funded voucher schools lack accountability measures. Voucher schools do not have to have licensed teachers, empirically based curriculum, maintain their accreditation status or abide by public meeting and open records laws. While public schools are governed by locally elected school boards, taxpayers have no say in how voucher schools are run.