FFRF to Wis. Legislature: End school vouchers

FFRF is urging the Wisconsin Legislature’s powerful Joint Committee on Finance to investigate rampant school voucher fraud and to end the disastrous voucher experiment altogether.

In a Feb. 16 letter from Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott providing detailed analysis to legislators, FFRF noted that in the recently expanded voucher system, 100% of the state-funded schools are Christian and 73% of students attend Catholic schools.

Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal would lift the 1,000-student cap on vouchers, opening the floodgates to funding religious schools with public dollars.

The letter highlights reports of significant fraud in the Milwaukee voucher program, noting that more than $139 million in the last 10 years has gone to schools that were subsequently barred from the program. Some schools, like Washington Du Bois Christian Leadership Academy, shut down abruptly amid claims of fraud, leaving families scrambling. Elliott said the Milwaukee program “serves as a warning as to what happens when taxpayer money is given to private, mostly religious groups that are not answerable to taxpayers.”

“It matters what is taught in taxpayer-funded schools,” Elliott said. Some voucher schools utilize fundamentalist textbooks that promote unscientific claims and revisionist history, and teach secular subjects with a biblical view of “absolute truth.”

While public schools are governed by publicly elected school boards and are subject to open meetings and records laws, taxpayers have no means to monitor the voucher schools that they fund.

Elliott urged legislators to investigate the many significant problems with the current system: “As it stands today, reports of fraud are unconfirmed because, reprehensibly, the state has never conducted a comprehensive investigation. Current and former voucher school employees have rung the alarm bell but the state has ignored the overwhelming evidence of mismanagement, defrauding of taxpayers, and a deficient education provided to vulnerable students.”

Elliott also charged that Walker’s proposal violates the provision in the state constitution barring funding of religion.

“Voucher schools were sold as an experiment to ‘save’ students from failing public schools,” said FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The politicians aren’t even pretending that is the case anymore. This is a brazen attack on public education.”

In Madison, more than 12,500 students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch, which means they would be eligible for vouchers under Walker’s budget bill. Almost half of students in the Madison Metropolitan School District could leave it at public expense, Elliott wrote. “How can our public school system continue to operate if untold numbers of students could leave for religious education, taking corresponding state funding with them?”

“The state should provide a sectarian-free public education system and end its alarming experiment to allow church-run schools to siphon taxpayer funds. Please remove all funding of voucher schools from the state budget,” he concluded.

About 1,300 of FFRF’s 21,500 members live in Wisconsin.

Freedom From Religion Foundation