Taxpayers’ bill for private voucher schools soars to $350 million

Wisconsin taxpayers will be spending $349.6 million to support private schools this year through the state’s voucher program, up from $302 million last year, according to figures released by the Department of Public Instruction.

According to DPI, the taxpayer-funded voucher programs will support a total of 43,450 private school students this year, up from 40,039 students last year.

There are four voucher programs: Milwaukee, Racine, Statewide, and Special Needs. The biggest growth this year was in the Statewide Program, which grew by 37 percent, and the Special Needs program, which grew by 55 percent. Below are figures from DPI:

Read more in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Cost of Wisconsin voucher programs nears $350 million as enrollment surges

CLOSE Buy Photo The HOPE Christian Schools network is active in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. (Photo: Mark Hoffman /Milwaukee Journal Sentinel) The number of Wisconsin students attending private, mostly religious, schools on taxpayer-funded vouchers continues to grow, driven by double-digit increases in the state’s two newest programs, according to data released by the Department of Public Instruction on Tuesday.

Despite serious problems and a lack of research support, virtual schools continue to spread

From the National Education Policy Center

Lawmakers throughout the nation continue to support the spread of virtual schools despite the fact that research reveals overwhelming evidence of poor performance, according to a new review by the National Education Policy Center.

Given the evidence, the review recommends that policymakers:

  • Slow or stop the growth in the number of virtual and blended schools and the size of their enrollments until the reasons for their relatively poor performance have been identified and addressed.
  • Implement measures that require virtual and blended schools to reduce their student-to-teacher ratios.
  • Enforce sanctions for virtual and blended schools that perform inadequately.
  • Sponsor research on virtual and blended learning “programs” and classroom innovations within traditional public schools and districts.

The three-part research brief titled Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2019, examines the claim that online curriculum can be tailored to individual students more effectively than curriculum in traditional classrooms.

Proponents contend that this potential for individualization allows virtual schools to promote greater student achievement than can be realized in traditional brick-and-mortar schools. NEPC researchers found, however, that the research evidence does not support this claim. Yet the lack of research support has done little to dampen policymakers’ enthusiasm, perhaps because virtual schools are marketed as promising lower operating costs, primarily via cutbacks in instructional personnel and facilities.

Section I of the brief, Full-Time Virtual and Blended Schools: Enrollment, Student Characteristics, and Performance, provides straightforward analyses of the characteristics and performance of full-time, publicly funded K-12 virtual schools. The data reveal that full-time virtual and blended learning schools continue to perform poorly.

Section II, What Virtual and Blended Education Research Reveals, points to a serious shortfall in the scholarly research. It reviews the relevant available studies related to virtual school practices and finds that much of this is atheoretical, methodologically questionable, contextually limited, and overgeneralized. As a result, the available research is of little value in guiding policy.

Section III, Key Policy Issues in Virtual Schools: Finance and Governance, Instructional Quality, and Teacher Quality, provides an overview of recent state legislative efforts to craft policy regarding virtual schools. As in past years, bills to increase oversight of virtual schools continue to be introduced. Some legislative actions have been prompted by state audits and legal challenges, as exemplified by recent virtual school controversies in California and Ohio. As such, the bills have been aimed at addressing accountability and governance structures, as well as curbing the operation of for-profit virtual schools. However, there is little evidence that legislative actions are being informed by available research on the performance of virtual schools.

The authors recommend that policymakers hit the pause button on further virtual school expansion until we understand how to address the poor performance of these schools.

Find Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2019, edited by Alex Molnar, at:
http://www.greatlakescenter.org

This research brief was made possible in part by support provided by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice: http://www.greatlakescenter.org

The National Education Policy Center (NEPC), housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education, produces and disseminates high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. Visit it at: http://nepc.colorado.edu.

Voucher program enrollment up 8.7 percent, cost soars to $302 million

Wisconsin Public Education Network graphic

Enrollment in Wisconsin’s three taxpayer-funded private school voucher programs rose 8.7 percent this year, while the cost soared 12.3 percent to $302 million, according to a report released Tuesday by the Department of Public Instruction.

Across the three programs (Milwaukee, Racine and statewide), 39,381 students received a voucher to attend one of the 279 participating private schools. That is an increase of 3,164 students and 43 schools compared to last school year.

The cost of the three programs combined is estimated at $302 million for the 2018-19 school year, which is an increase of about $33 million (12.3 percent) from the prior year.

For the 2018-19 school year, voucher payments are $7,754 per full-time equivalent in grades kindergarten through eight and $8,400 per FTE for students enrolled in grades nine through 12. That compares to $5,001 per student on average for public school students in  Wisconsin.

Enrollments in the three programs are:

  • The Milwaukee program enrolls 28,917 students in 129 participating private schools this year.
  • The Wisconsin Parental Choice Program enrolls 7,140 students in 213 private schools.
  • The Racine program enrolls 3,324 students in 26 participating private schools.

Read more from the Department of Public Instruction (pdf file).

Private school voucher backers top $7.5 million in donations to Wisconsin politicians

From One Wisconsin Now

With the latest round of state campaign finance reports in, backers of the private school voucher program have larded the campaign accounts of politicians willing to do their bidding with $7.5 million in campaign contributions since 2008. Leading the pack, and hauling in more than 1 of every 4 dollars donated, is Governor Scott Walker with a total take in excess of $2.165 million.

“The people writing these checks want to see more private school vouchers,” said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross. “Scott Walker has more than delivered, draining resources away from public K-12 schools and sending them to the less accountable private voucher schools favored by the donors who’ve dumped over $2 million into his campaign coffers.”

Under Walker and the GOP controlled legislature there has been a dramatic, statewide expansion of the less accountable private school voucher program. Vouchers take resources directly away from public schools to help pay for it even though the majority of students who enrolled in the expanded program were already attending private schools.

On top of the contributions sent directly to candidates, the American Federation for Children (AFC), a pro-voucher special interest group closely associated with Donald Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has spent over $5 million to help its favored politicians in Wisconsin.

In addition, as uncovered by One Wisconsin Now, the Milwaukee based Bradley Foundation, which was overseen by Walker’s campaign chair Michael Grebe, spent over $108 million in support of groups helping to advance the education privatization agenda Walker favors between 2005 and 2014.

‘No-excuses’ charter schools could do more harm than good, analysis finds

“No-excuses” charter schools – which promote strict disciplinary policies, longer school days, and intensive academic tutoring at the expense of the arts and physical education – could do more harm than good, according to a new review by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

“While supporters of ‘no-excuses’ charter schools say these practices improve student achievement, they fail to acknowledge the potential negative effects these practices have on students, teachers, and families,” according to the report.

The Think Twice report disputes an earlier report by Princeton University and the Brookings Institute claiming that practices found in “no-excuses” charter schools could help close the achievement gap, especially in low-performing schools. Think Twice reviewers Joanne W. Golann, an assistant professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, and Chris Torres, an assistant professor of K-12 educational administration at Michigan State University, conclude that the original report had several flaws and should not be used to inform education policy or as a tool to expand “no-excuses” charter schools and policies.

The Think Twice report noted that several studies have demonstrated the “no-excuses” practices can negatively impact a student’s socio-emotional development and later success. “Many ‘no-excuses’ charter schools have harsh, disparate discipline policies that can result in suspensions or expulsions for violations, no matter how small,” it says.

The Think Twice report says:

  • “No-excuses” schools aren’t a one-size-fits-all approach to turning around schools; and there is no solid evidence to back up claims that “no-excuses” disciplinary policies are the core reason for these schools’ success.
  • “No-excuses” schools have higher than average teacher turnover rates due to concerns about workload, long hours, and the “no-excuses” model itself.
  • Policymakers, education leaders, and other decision-makers should pause before expanding “no-excuses” schools and polices.
  • Policymakers, educators, and researchers need to work together to address and understand the impact of the “no-excuses” model before expanding it to other charters or even traditional public schools.
  • We need to embrace culturally relevant educational practices that support equitable and fair learning opportunities for all students and ensure students can learn in a safe environment.
  • Educators should focus on all aspects of student growth – including academic and emotional and personal growth – rather than only focusing on academic achievement to measure student success.

Find out more at the Great Lakes Center website.