Walker budget proposal would open voucher floodgates, destroy common schools

The Freedom From Religion Foundation today blasted the budget proposal by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to eliminate the enrollment cap and the low-income requirement for participation in the Milwaukee voucher program.

FFRF charged that Walker’s voucher scheme could ultimately destroy public education in Wisconsin. Walker’s proposed state budget has ignited unprecedented daily protests at the Wisconsin State Capitol by many, including teacher unions protesting his proposal to eliminate collective bargaining. But with Walker’s voucher proposal, the other shoe has dropped.

“If enacted, Walker’s voucher proposals would ultimately destroy the dream of our common schools — secular public education in Wisconsin,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, who, with Dan Barker, co-directs the national state/church watchdog, based in Madison, Wis.

Art. X, Section 3 of the Wisconsin State Constitution establishes “district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable; and such schools shall be free and without charge for tuition to all children between the ages of 4 and 20 years; and no sectarian instruction shall be allowed therein.”

“Parents may choose to send their children to religiously-segregated schools, but citizens should not be taxed to support religious schools,” Gaylor charged.

Gaylor noted that the Catholic conference of bishops has waged an unending campaign demanding since the 1880s to force taxpayers to support parochial education. The “choice” program has been a windfall for Catholic schools in Milwaukee, closely followed by Lutheran and evangelical.

The Wisconsin State Supreme Court disastrously approved the “choice” program, which includes religious schools, in 1998. Limited to low-income children who live in Milwaukee and attend city schools, the program and its expenses have increased yearly. Private, overwhelmingly religious schools receive $6,442 from the state for each voucher student. That money is subtracted from aid to Milwaukee public schools.

More than 20,000 children are enrolled in the Milwaukee voucher program for 2010-2011. Roughly 80% of about 100 voucher schools are religious. St. Anthony Catholic School enrolls more than 1,400 voucher students, and Messmer High (Catholic) close to 1,000 voucher students. Other religious schools include Believers in Christ Christian Academy, Carter’s Christian Academy, Yeshiva Elementary School, Word of Life Evangelical Lutheran School and 22 schools whose names are prefaced by “Saint.”

Walker's personal religious views are Christian evangelical. At his Inauguration Day prayer breakfast, Walker said: "I'm proud to say I'm a born-again Christian. I hope you appreciate the fact that it is not freedom from religion, it is freedom from a state religion that we celebrate. The great creator, no matter who you worship, is the one from which our freedoms are derived, not the government."

Walker’s proposal would:

• Open up the program to any students in Milwaukee, even from wealthy families, who wish to attend religious or private schools at taxpayers’ expense.

• Allow any student who did not attend a Milwaukee private school this year (2010-2011) to attend a private school of their choice for next year and in future years. (It is unclear whether currently-enrolled private school students would be eligible for the aid after 2012.)

• Open up the so-called “school choice” program to any private school in Milwaukee County, not just the City of Milwaukee, beginning in 2012.

• Potentially generate huge revenues for parochial and other private schools. Private schools could charge tuition to families above what the state would pay if the family income is 3.25 times the poverty level.

Additionally, Walker wants to remove a recent requirement that students in “choice” schools take state tests, enacted to try to measure whether the program has improved achievement. Significantly, the first research since the program began in the mid-1990s, released in 2009 by the Public Policy Forum, shows little differences in success between public students and private school voucher students.

Walker’s budget proposal could decrease by about $50 million the amount the district could raise under revenue limits, while diverting state and city dollars to private (mostly religious) schools in Wisconsin’s densest county. Walker proposes slashing education funding by $834 million in state K-12 education spending over the next few years — a drop in state and local funding for general public school operation of 5.5% in 2011-2012. Milwaukee’s private school voucher program, however, could see huge infusions of state money.

“It is so obvious what our governor’s goal is — to rob public schools to aid parochial. This is an unprecedented power grab to devalue and destroy public education in Wisconsin,” said Dan Barker.


Protect public, secular education in Wisconsin! 
Protest Gov. Scott Walker’s voucher scheme

Talking Points (Feel free to copy and paste or, better yet, use your own words):

I strongly object to the Wisconsin "choice" voucher program. The program should be suspended, not enlarged. Your proposal to uncap the voucher enrollment and open it up to wealthy Milwaukee families is detrimental to public needs. Taxpayer money should not be supporting religiously-segregated schools.

For maximum effectiveness, write as an individual and not as someone responding to an Action Alert. Please do not forward this Action Alert to Governor Walker. We are pleased to receive "blind" ("BCC") copies of your messages and correspondence by e-mail at [email protected].

Governor Scott Walker
Office of the Governor
115 East Capitol
Madison WI 53702
Phone: (608) 266-1212
[email protected]

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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