Tens of thousands of parents take advantage of Wisconsin’s school choice program in order to provide a better education for their children. If Gov. Tony Evers has his way, though, that choice will be taken away from them.
According to a new report from the Department of Public Instruction, enrollment in school voucher programs increased by about 9 percent over the past year, with more than 43,000 students attending private schools through government vouchers.
Despite the fact that vouchers are restricted to families with household incomes below the state’s median income, most Democrats oppose the school choice program because the money for vouchers comes out of the general education budget. They don’t want to help low- and middle-income families get ahead; they just want to keep sending money to failing government programs irrespective of results.
Ironically, funding for Wisconsin public schools has actually increased in recent years, though there has been no discernable improvement in educational outcomes. Last year, for instance, funding for Wisconsin public schools increased by $83 million, yet Assembly Rep. Jeremy Thiesfedt, R-Fond du Lac, argued that the extra money has not been used effectively, pointing out that a shocking 60 percent of Wisconsin students can’t read or do math at their grade level.
It’s no wonder that so many parents are choosing to send their kids to higher-performing private schools.
Evers, however, has long been vocal about his opposition to voucher programs, going back to when he headed the Department of Public Instruction before he ran for governor. In his role as Wisconsin’s education chief, Evers called expanding the voucher program “morally wrong.” As a candidate for governor, Evers hoped to phase out school choice vouchers, blaming them for taking funding out of the public school system.
As governor, Evers has been unable to eliminate funding for voucher programs completely, but he has tried to make it as difficult as possible for voucher programs to grow. Republican lawmakers managed to defeat a provision in the governor’s 2019 budget request that would have frozen school choice funding at current levels, but there’s no doubt Evers will try again if he thinks he can muster up the votes.
Evers is following the Democrat playbook closely on this issue, and the only thing stopping him from dismantling Wisconsin’s school choice program is the Republican majority in the Legislature. Democrats across the country vehemently oppose school choice programs, and the strategies they’ve previously employed at the federal level show how determined they are to restore the public school monopoly.
President Barack Obama fought voucher programs tooth and nail, despite the fact that those programs benefit low-income Americans who would otherwise have no option but to send their children to overburdened, underperforming local schools. Obama evidently believed that protecting teachers’ unions was more important than empowering families, because he targeted voucher programs with lawsuits designed to put them out of business and launched nitpicky investigations in search of a legal rationale for taking away their funding. Indeed, the Obama administration spent four whole years trying to prove that Milwaukee’s school choice program discriminated against children with disabilities, only to quietly shelve the investigation when it became clear that no such discrimination took place.
President Donald Trump, conversely, has done everything in his power to promote school choice, creating tax credits that function essentially as a federal voucher system. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, for instance, expanded the popular 529 college savings plans to allow parents to use tax-free money for K-12 tuition at private schools. In addition, the Trump administration has proposed extending $5 billion worth of federal tax credits for donations to groups that provide scholarships to private schools and other non-traditional educational programs — an innovative approach that allows increased funding for school choice without taking funding away from public schools.
Tens of thousands of Wisconsin parents are sending a clear message to Gov. Evers: Follow President Trump’s lead and support school choice so students can have the best education possible and their parents can have the peace of mind that comes from knowing their kids’ future is secure.