Privatizing Wisconsin Schools Is No Answer

Story Date: 
Apr 11, 2014

By Molly Collins

Wisconsin’s experimentation with taxpayer-funded charter and voucher schools is a failure.

Our recent ranking as the worst state for African-American students’ reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress is an embarrassment, and these experiments haven’t helped one bit.  

For the past twenty years, we have been messing around with Milwaukee’s school system through a series of charter and voucher schemes that have not been proven to have better outcomes than public schools.  Despite it being part of their intended purpose, these schools have done nothing to close the achievement gap between African-American and white students.

And yet, the Wisconsin State Legislature continues to work to dismantle public education through a series of new laws to further expand charter and voucher schools statewide. 

One of the newest schemes that the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce is pushing forward is a plan for a “Recovery” or “Portfolio” School District in Wisconsin. 

A Recovery School District takes schools that were deemed failing and creates a separate district.  This removes control over schools from the locally elected school boards and places the public’s trust for educating our most at-risk children into the hands of private, appointed individuals. 

Other states have used this gimmick to bring additional charter schools into a community without the support of the local school board.  The boards of private and charter schools are not required to have the same level of transparency or accountability as our public schools. 

These separate school systems also wind up costing taxpayers more.  Recovery School Districts have been implemented in two other states, Louisiana and Tennessee, where there have been other pools of money poured into these schemes.  The Wisconsin plan would require school districts to use local property taxes to pay a portion of voucher payments to private schools.

The argument for charter and voucher expansion has suggested that having more schools to choose from allows parents to shop for the best education for their child. But even though these schools can cherry pick the best students, their outcomes are no better – and sometimes worse – than public schools.

Expanding voucher and charter schools further, or creating a Recovery School District, is not the way to fix the achievement gap.  It is time to restore adequate funding for our most needy public school children and stop the continued expansion of publicly funded private schools that don’t work. 

Students should be treated equally and receive the “adequate education” mandated by the Wisconsin state constitution. 

A state with Wisconsin’s proud legacy of public education cannot let these disparities continue.

Privatizing our schools is not the answer. The answer is to rededicate ourselves to our public schools.

The future of our community depends upon it.

This also appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on April 11, 2014. http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/privatizing-wisconsin-schools-is-no...