Disadvantaged and Minority Students the Biggest Losers in Evers’ Budget

In his weekly column, @DanODonnellShow examines the impact of Governor Evers’ budget on Wisconsin’s landmark school choice program. #wiright #wibudget #wiedu Click To Tweet

March 6, 2019

Special Guest Perspective by Dan O’Donnell

Just call him “Two-Faced Tony.”

The most noticeable trend of the early days of the Evers Administration is the new Governor’s penchant for promising something and then quickly reversing course.

As shameless as Evers' flip-flops on taxes and WEDC have been, they can’t compare to his duplicitousness on the issue of school choice. Click To Tweet

He intimated that he wouldn’t abide by new laws the State Legislature passed in extraordinary session before promising to follow them the next day. He repeatedly announced plans to dissolve the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation before abandoning them.

On the campaign trail, he said “everything is on the table” when it comes to new revenue streams before telling the Washington Post a few days before the election that he won’t propose any new taxes.

Naturally, he raised taxes by upwards of $1.6 billion in his first biennial budget.

As shameless as these flip-flops have been, they can’t compare to his duplicitousness on the issue of school choice.

While campaigning, he promised time and again to abolish Wisconsin’s landmark program but once elected told WisconsinEye that such a thing “can’t happen.”

“We have 30,000-plus kids in there,” he continued. “That can’t happen and I’ve never said that can happen.”

Only he did. Over and over again.

“As Governor, I would work with the legislature to phase out vouchers,” he said in candidate survey for the Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance. “I’ve spent the last 20 years fighting back against vouchers and privatizers. On my watch, we’ve removed more than 30 schools from the voucher program and prevented dozens from joining.

“When we aren’t adequately funding our public schools, how can we possibly afford a parallel publicly funded private school system?”

This would be a good time to point out that in 2017, Superintendent Evers had raised no such concerns about underfunded public schools, even going so far as to call then-Governor Scott Walker’s budget “kid-friendly.”

Governor Evers’ first budget, however, isn’t 'kid friendly' - at least not for the low-income students he pledged to help. Click To Tweet

Governor Evers’ first budget, however, isn’t; at least not for the low-income students he pledged to help.

“The investment we make in our kids today will yield dividends for generations,” he said in his budget address last week. “We’re going to get to work on closing the achievement gap for low-income students and students of color.”

His budget said the exact opposite.

It freezes both private school choice enrollment and independent charter school creation across the state, essentially forcing students to stay in the public school system (no matter how bad it is in their district).

Nearly three-quarters of the 38,000 students in Wisconsin’s school choice program live in the Milwaukee Public School District, which had a whopping 39 failing schools on the most recent Department of Public Instruction report cards. With 154 total schools in MPS, a full 25% of the District’s schools fail to meet even the most basic of state expectations!

Since 89% of MPS students are African-American, Hispanic, or Asian and 81.7% of MPS students are economically disadvantaged, how exactly does Governor Evers think keeping roughly a quarter of them in failing schools will help to, in his words, close “the achievement gap for low-income students and students of color?”

There’s already a pronounced achievement gap within MPS: the only school in the entire district to score above 90 (a phenomenal 94.3) on the latest DPI report cards was the Milwaukee Excellence Charter School.

And if the Governor was serious about “mak[ing] an investment in our kids today” that will “yield dividends for generations,” he should read a working paper from the University of Arkansas released just two days before his budget address.

It found that “exposure to [the Milwaukee Parental Choice] program in 8th or 9th grade predicts lower rates of conviction for criminal activity and lower rates of paternity suits by ages 25 to 28. Specifically, exposure to the MCPC is associated with a reduction of around 53% in drug convictions, 86% in property damage convictions, and 38% in paternity suits.”

The Choice Program is thus on a per-student basis far more responsible for ending the so-called “school-to-prison” pipeline than is its public school competition.

Univ. of Arkansas study: 'Specifically, exposure to the MCPC is associated with a reduction of around 53% in drug convictions, 86% in property damage convictions, and 38% in paternity suits.' Click To Tweet

The only losers when this competition for students is eliminated, though, are the students themselves—especially those most at-risk of falling into self-destructive and criminal behavior later in life.

In other words, the very students that Evers claims to want to help the most.

In the first direct, comprehensive comparison study between voucher and public schools in 2017, students in the Racine and Wisconsin choice programs scored 17% higher on the ACT. Students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program scored 8% higher. They were also 8% more likely to be proficient in Math and 7% more likely to be proficient in English.

These are students who might otherwise fall farther and farther behind in public schools that are themselves falling farther and farther behind state standards.

This is perhaps why, when given the choice, so many parents choose private school alternatives.

When fewer than half of Milwaukee Public Schools met or exceeded expectations on the latest DPI report card but 80% of all charter schools, 75% of MPS charter schools, 68% of MCPC schools did, what other choice do they have?

Under Governor Evers’ budget, not much of a choice at all. By freezing voucher school enrollment, it traps thousands of students in schools that are failing them when a better education and a better adult life remain just out of reach. By halting the creation of new alternatives to failing public schools, Evers’ budget puts Wisconsin on the path toward what Evers has wanted all along: the end of the school choice program altogether…and along with it end of the opportunity for students in the direst of circumstances a chance to escape.

Governor Evers’ budget makes clear that he wants to block that escape for as many students as possible. Unsurprisingly, he’s just not being honest about it.