April 23, 2013
by James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute
Miles Turner, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators, promised to tell, “the rest of the story.” Like a bad television series cancelled early, the story is a few episodes short.
In his op-ed, “There are no ‘failing’ Wisconsin schools,” Turner complains that the assessments of Wisconsin’s school systems are being used to justify an expansion of school choice. “There was never any suggestion that the report card should be used to create a broad policy mandate that would send taxpayer money to private schools.”
Let’s take exception to Turner complaining about a “broad policy mandate.” There is nothing “broad” about the proposed expansion of school choice. Governor Scott Walker has only proposed the expansion of the private school choice option to nine more school districts on top of the two districts that already have it.
Whether Turner likes it or not, the scoring system has helped identify which schools are failing. In an education bureaucrats’ dream, there would be no keeping score. But like a baseball league for children that refuses to keep score, the parents and the kids know who are the winners and the losers. The scoring system is telling us which schools are not succeeding, and school choice is one policy option for helping kids to become educational winners.
Unlike Turner, parents recognize that some schools are failing to educate their kids, and they want options. Statewide, 26% of children are educated using some form of school choice. In Milwaukee, where they have the private school option, that number jumps to 81%.
Turner objects to state education money going to fund school choice. Shouldn’t he be more outraged that taxpayer money is going to schools that, by his own measurements, are failing to teach children, whether or not he wants to use the word, “failure?”
But what about the money? Turner says, “All taxpayers will pay for the expansion of vouchers to private schools that have virtually no accountability, with local school districts suffering a subsequent loss of funding.” That’s simply a scare tactic not grounded in reality.
State aid is tied to the number of students in a district. Wisconsin does not do a twice-annual census of the number of buildings or school administrators to determine state aid. Wisconsin counts the noses in the classroom. That’s because the purpose of state educational aid is to educate children, not to erect monuments and keep administrators employed.
When a student moves from one district to another because their parents bought a house in a different neighborhood, we don’t say the school district is losing funding. We just note the change in enrollment and adjust the state aid formula accordingly.
However, the state does take into account the investment by a district in educational spending. It shields the district from a shock of sudden losses of enrollment by using a three-year average. So the district will still receive money for a student it no longer is educating. That does not change with the expansion of school choice.
As for the taxpayers Turner pretends to care about, the private school choice option for students and parents is a bargain. Wisconsin’s public schools spend over $11,300 per student, according to the latest census figures. Under Walker’s budget, students under the private school option will receive $7000, $7800 for high school students.
The whole state wins. In 2010, the Milwaukee Choice Program created a net fiscal benefit of $46.7 million. Meanwhile, studies show that kids in choice programs are more likely to graduate from high school. That’s important because a new study by the MacIver Institute shows, “Dropouts cost the state an estimated $503 million in Medicaid costs, incarceration costs, and lost income tax in 2011 alone.”
So instead of hiding the analysis of the effectiveness of the state’s schools in a binder somewhere in Turner’s storage closet, let’s put those numbers to use and identify those school districts that are failing our children. Let’s give those kids and parents educational options so we can all benefit.
That’s not just the rest of the story. It’s a story with a happy ending.