FFRF calls on Wis. legislature to investigate, end voucher program

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is not only urging members of the Wisconsin Legislature’s powerful Joint Committee on Finance to investigate rampant voucher fraud, but to end the disastrous voucher experiment altogether.

In a February 16 letter from Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott providing detailed analysis, FFRF calls for a legislative investigation into voucher fraud and an end to school voucher expansion. FFRF is distributing a copy of the letter to all legislators.

Governor Scott Walker’s budget proposal would lift the 1,000 student cap on statewide vouchers, opening the floodgates to funding religiously-segregated schools.

FFRF points out that in the recently expanded statewide voucher system, 100% of the state-funded schools are Christian, and 73% of students attend Roman Catholic schools.

The letter highlights reports of significant fraud within the Milwaukee voucher program, noting that more than $139 million in the last ten 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 that 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 would violate the provision in the Wisconsin Constitution prohibiting funding of religion, because the program “would subsidize church schools across the state.”

Vouchers would be granted to students attending high-performing public schools as long as they meet income requirements. “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 the students within 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,” concludes FFRF.

“Where public money goes, public accountability must follow,” adds Gaylor. “What Governor Walker proposes would destroy our public schools — by enriching religious-segregated, mostly Catholic schools, at the expense of our common schools and secular education. Wisconsin is ground zero in the attack on our public schools, which play an essential role in our secular republic. We urge the Wisconsin public to take action to defend our precious system of public education.”

FFRF is a national state/church nonprofit organization with more than 21,500 members, including 1,300 in Wisconsin.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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