School Vouchers: A Failed Educational Experiment

Originally posted in the report: Fulfill the Promise: The schools and communities our children deserve, published by Schools and Communities United.

For a quarter century, Milwaukee has been the target of a free-market experiment to transform education from a constitutional right for all children, to a consumer item that privileges wealthy families.

It is a failed experiment. Nonetheless, it remains a key goal of conservative powerhouses such as the Koch brothers and the Walton and Bradley foundations.

Under the voucher program, public tax dollars pay the tuition at private schools. Even if every single student receives a voucher, the school is still defined as private.

Here are four essential problems.

Vouchers siphon tax dollars out of public schools
The state legislature cut per-pupil spending by $635 in fiscal year 2011-12—the second highest cut in the country. That same year, $142 million in public money was funneled to private voucher schools in Milwaukee, and the voucher program was expanded to Racine. Since 1990, $1.3 billion in tax dollars have been given to Milwaukee voucher schools.

Vouchers are a failed educational experiment

In the 2013-14 state tests, voucher school students performed lower than students in the Milwaukee Public Schools in both reading and math.

Voucher schools skirt basic accountability

Voucher schools follow different rules than public schools. They can expel students at will, and do not have to hire certified teachers or provide necessary special education services. They can teach creationism or teach that homosexuality is a sin. In Milwaukee, 89 percent of voucher students attend a religious school.

The goal is universal vouchers

Voucher supporters seek to replace public education with universal vouchers—or, as one advocate said, “a voucher in every backpack.” Today, the Milwaukee voucher program enrolls some 26,000 students—in size, almost as big as the Madison district. It is the largest voucher program in any U.S. city and now the current state budget proposes to increase the program’s reach to the entire state.

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