Mayor Paul Soglin and advocates for the Madison Metropolitan School District spoke out against Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to expand the private school voucher program to public schools in the city at a press conference Monday.
Under a voucher program, the City of Madison would pay private schools to allow students that would otherwise have gone to public school to attend private school instead.
Arlene Silveira, a Madison Board of Education member, said it is wrong to take taxpayer money and divert it away from public schools for children to go to private schools.
“I find it appalling and devastating to our community,” she said. “There is a strong correlation between strong communities and good public schools. After last year’s unprecedented budget cuts, I expected Walker to invest in public education, not private education.”
Soglin also criticized Walker’s plan, which would require public schools to continue to meet standards for special education without requiring the “voucher schools” to meet those standards. He said it is unfair to take money from public schools to go to private schools that have no standards regarding special education.
However, Walker contended in a statement released Monday an expansion of the voucher program would give students alternatives to underperforming schools.
“Every child, regardless of their zip code, deserves access to a great education,” Walker said. “While is is our goal to help struggling schools succeed, we need to make sure students and parents can choose the best option and make sure each child receives a truly great education.”
Marjorie Passman, vice president of the Madison Board of Education, said voucher schools are filled with teachers and staff who lack credentials and have unrestricted curriculum. She said these schools make the poor pay for the rich to attend private schools and that this will leave many students in crowded, underfunded schools with their needs unmet.
“They only want money—to make money from our children,” Passman said. “Those not chosen by the lottery will return to the dying embers of our schools that have had essential funding drained from them.”
Soglin said traumatic incidences, which usually occur outside of school, are one of the major factors that contribute to how a student performs academically. That is not something a teacher, principal, school board member or the superintendent can control, he said.
Soglin also said the other major factor at work is funding for education. As the state cuts back on funding, schools throughout Wisconsin are devastated, he said.
“It’s deeply troubling that in this day and age, where we understand the nature of the problem and we have documentation to how these so-called school reforms work, that a proposal like this would be brought forward,” Soglin said
Passman said Walker’s plan to bring voucher schools to Madison is another part of his political agenda and called Walker the “Joseph McCarthy of education.”
Soglin said students who stay in Madison public schools tend to do well on standardized tests and cited scores for 10th grade math test results which show 70 percent of Madison public school students performing at a proficient or advanced level.
“As our schools go, so goes our city,” Passman said. “That’s why we are united here against this measure.”