Janesville School Board candidates weigh in on voucher plan

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Frank Schultz
Wednesday, February 27, 2013

— All the Janesville School Board candidates believe Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to expand the state’s school-voucher program is either a bad idea or one that needs work.

Six candidates are vying for three seats on the school board in the April 2 elections. They were asked this week whether they support expansion of the program that uses state money so parents can have a choice between the public schools or a private voucher school.

The program currently operates in Milwaukee and Racine.

Walker proposes to open the voucher program to certain larger school districts that have had particular difficulty in achieving good academic results. Those districts right now are Beloit, Fond du Lac, Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, Sheboygan, Superior, Waukesha and West Allis-West Milwaukee.

Incumbent candidate Karl Dommershausen has asked that the school board meet and decide whether the board wants to send a letter to local legislators to relay the board’s position on the issue.

Whether the board can reach agreement on a common position remains to be seen.

“I’m against it because it’ll cost Janesville taxpayers money,” Dommershausen said, noting that the money that goes to the voucher program is taken from a pool of money that funds public schools.

“It’s not good for our people who work here. It’s not good for our children. It’s just not good,” Dommershausen said.

Incumbent candidate Peter D. Severson, chairman of the board’s legislative committee, said he hopes the board can have that conversation at a committee meeting held before the board’s regular meeting on March 12.

Severson said the current program drains about $800,000 in state aid from the Janesville School District to pay for vouchers in Milwaukee and Racine, and expansion would make matters worse.

Severson also said he hasn’t heard any evidence that voucher schools are very successful.

“If the Legislature and the governor find a different way that didn’t take our general aid, then I’d be more willing to look at the model, I guess,” Severson said.

Candidate Diane Eyers had the friendliest comments about the voucher program, but she said she could back it only under certain conditions, and those conditions don’t exist today.

“In theory, I think the program might help,” Eyers said. “The ultimate goal is a good education for the kids. If that’s working, then I say go for it. But I would like to have more testing or something so we know this is actually working for the kids. There’s no accountability for the growth of the children.”

The third incumbent in the race, Kristin Hesselbacher, strongly opposes vouchers.

“I am opposed to using public tax dollars to fund education at private schools, so I am against expansion of the program. I am against its very existence,” Hesselbacher said.

Hesselbacher noted that parents already have the choice of moving their children to a different public school district through the state’s open-enrollment program.

Hesselbacher said voucher schools are not held accountable for their academic outcomes or instructional programs.

“Also, private schools are not required to provide services to all students, as we are in public education,” she said.

Candidate Fredrick Jackson opposes the program for similar reasons.

“Overall, vouchers are not the answer,” Jackson said. “Public schools need to be strong and stable, and money needs be put into them, not taken from them.”

Strength and stability in public schools are important because of the diverse student bodies that are housed within, Jackson added.

Cathy Myers, a public schoolteacher in Illinois, is strongly anti-voucher.

“It’s not appropriate to spend public funds for a system that offers no accountably whatsoever,” Myers said.

“I think that if you really care about education for everybody, you improve public schools, neighborhood schools,” Myers said, rather than funneling money “to private organizations that can take away money from schools that serve everybody.”

The worst part of it is that the voucher money goes to schools that don’t perform well, Myers said.

Last updated: 8:07 am Monday, April 29, 2013

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