Gov. Scott Walker’s proposals to expand voucher programs are meeting controversy in light of cuts made to public school funding during the last budget cycle.
While on his recent national school tour, Walker expressed the need to expand the use of voucher programs as well as other alternatives to traditional schooling. Voucher programs allow the government to help pay for tuition at private schools.
Right now, the state offers these voucher programs in Milwaukee and Racine, giving $6,442 per child to attend private schools. Walker’s efforts to expand these programs drew backlash from those who would like to see more money invested in public schools instead.
Patrick Gasper, Department of Public Instruction spokesperson, criticized the budget cuts undergone by public schools and emphasized the need for a greater investment in public education. Gasper said budget cuts for public schools this year were the highest ever.
He said State Superintendent Tony Evers hopes to promote a plan to increase investment in public schools at the next budget meeting.
Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Middleton, voiced disagreement with Walker’s expansion vision in a statement Wednesday. He stressed the importance of increased state aid to public school districts and made claims private vouchers receive more state funding.
“We need to get serious about investing in public education to see the real results that Republicans and Democrats alike have called for from our students and educators,” Pope said in the statement.
Pope cited a memo sent by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, showing how much general funding is provided to each pupil in every public school district in Wisconsin. It compares this amount of state funding to the $6,442 voucher programs provide to each pupil for private schools.
The results show an imbalance between public and private school funding — an imbalance to which Walker’s spokesman Cullen Werwie declined to respond to, according to the Associated Press. The Badger Herald was unable to reach Werwie for comment as of press time.
Though Pope-Roberts cited this memo, a statement from School Choice Wisconsin said the accusation that private schools receive more state money than public schools were not entirely accurate. When broken down, public schools receive $4,900 from the state in aid.
Although private school vouchers receive $6,442, a portion of that is also from local government funding, the statement said, so the result is actually a smaller portion of state funds than seen in public schools.
School Choice Wisconsin is a nonprofit organization providing vouchers for low-income families to send their children to private schools.
Jim Bender, president of the company, scolded the inaccurate data Pope-Roberts proposed in his statement.
“I look forward to a great deal of discussion about school funding in the future,” Bender said.
In response to Pope-Roberts, School Choice Wisconsin released a statement advocating for the future of private schools and voucher expansion.
“In the end, students in the School Choice programs have higher graduation and college acceptance rates while providing dramatic savings to taxpayers,” the statement said.
-The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, this article mis-identified Patrick Gaspar as “a spokesperson, for the University of Wisconsin System Superintendent Tony Evers.” Gaspar is a spokesperson for the Department of Public Instruction, and Tony Evers is State Superintendent of Public Instruction, not UW System superintendent . The Badger Herald regrets the error.