Where is the ‘choice’? Catholic schools win big in Wis. voucher scheme

This week the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction will randomly select 500 students under Wisconsin’s huge expansion of vouchers to receive vouchers at taxpayer expense to attend 25 Christian schools. Christian schools were the only winners, and more than 80% of such schools are Catholic.

Contrary to the pro-voucher propaganda insisting the expansion would give public schools “choice,” only a quarter of the participating students will come from public students A full 76% of student applicants did not attend public school last year and 67% of accepted students were already attending private schools.

“It is appaling that taxpayer funding is going to Christian education for students already attending religiously segregated and unaccountable parochial schools,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, FFRF co-president.

Under the new statewide voucher scheme, the 25 schools receiving the most applicants will receive a tuition voucher worth $6,442 per enrolled student. Every one of the 25 schools announced last week is a Christian school: 18 Catholic schools, four Lutheran schools and three non-denominational Christian schools.

“Where is the ‘choice’ in that?” asked Gaylor.

One Madison school was chosen — Madison’s Lighthouse Christian School — which apparently will be teaching creationism, compliments of state taxpayers.

Noted Wisconsin State Journal columnist Chris Rickert:

“ . . . there is one bright line past which no public dollars should cross, it’s the line between schools that teach evolution and schools that shun evolution for ‘intelligent design,’ creationism or some such similar religiously based nonsense that warps kids’ minds and leaves them ill-prepared for responsible citizenship.

“Thoughtful people should be disturbed that Madison’s Lighthouse Christian School is among those eligible to take voucher students under the Legislature’s recent expansion of the state program.”

The Wisconsin Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker expanded vouchers across the state in the 2013-15 budget. The expansion was touted as providing a “choice” for public school students to attend a private school as an alternative to “failing” public schools.

State Rep. Sondy Pope, a voucher critic, said, “The voucher program is no longer providing the escape option from a failing public school; it has become a new state entitlement program that will cost taxpayers and directly compete with our constitutionally required public school system.”

Only the top 25 schools out of 48 receiving student applicants received funding, heavily weighting funding in favor of established Christian schools. Two Jewish schools, one Muslim school and the only secular school to apply did not receive enough student applicants to break into the top 25.

“Under the state’s system, only select religious schools were able to garner a high number of student applicants. The U.S. and Wisconsin Constitutions do not allow for preferential treatment to religion, which includes the prohibition against majority-rule funding schemes like this,” said FFRF Staff Attorney Patrick Elliott.

The number of vouchers will increase from 500 this year to 1,000 next year. Vouchers in Wisconsin were initially limited to Milwaukee but were expanded to Racine in 2011. 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. It is expected that an average of $192.5 million in taxpayer funds will be spent each year on vouchers during the 2013-15 budget cycle.

“This voucher program is being used as an inroad into completely funding religious education with taxpayer money. Vouchers must be stopped, not expanded,” said Gaylor.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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