Wisconsin budget bill expands voucher programs at public expense

1OuchVouchersThe Freedom From Religion Foundation is calling on Wisconsin legislators to remove expanded voucher funding from the state budget. FFRF is alarmed at the proposal, which pushes Wisconsin further toward a privatized education system that is dominated by religious schools.

The budget calls for spending $3.1 million in funding earmarked for the state's newest voucher school program, designed for students with disabilities. The plan would double enrollment from the 2016 program.

The Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee voted this week to significantly increase payments to private schools as part of the state's Special Needs Scholarship Program. The program, which is strongly opposed by parents and advocates of students with disabilities, will increase payments to private schools at the expense of our public schools.

The payments largely will go to Lutheran and Catholic parochial schools, which make up the vast majority of private schools benefiting from the subsidy. Almost 90 percent of schools participating during the 2017-18 school year are religious.

The bill further erodes public education in Wisconsin by removing requirements that voucher students must first attend a public school before being eligible to apply for vouchers. Under the bill, students currently attending parochial schools at private expense will be eligible to seek vouchers.

It is fiscally irresponsible that the committee voted to make voucher payments greater than what schools currently get, or greater than the actual costs private schools incurred in the prior year to educate the students.

Under this scheme, public schools, which are mandated by law to provide a free and appropriate education to all students, will have fewer resources, while the state funds even more unaccountable religious schools.

Taxpayers should not be forced to fund religious education. These schools do not answer to the citizens who write the voucher checks. Voucher schemes in Wisconsin should be discontinued rather than expanded.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

FFRF is a non-profit, educational organization. All dues and donations are deductible for income-tax purposes.

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