Wisconsin Lawmakers Seek Voucher Regulations

Wisconsin Lawmakers Seek Voucher Regulations
August 22, 2013

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)

School Choice Weekly, Issue #5

Wisconsin’s private school voucher program, the nation’s oldest, has the dubious distinction of also being the most heavily regulated, according to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. That’s not enough for the anti-choice Republicans leading the state legislature. They want to extend more government control into any private schools that offer poor families opportunities through the state’s voucher program.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Luther Olsen, whose wife is a public school administrator, has long thwarted school choice. Gov. Scott Walker had to twist Olsen’s arm to get the state’s tiny new voucher expansion of 500 students this year. Olsen and Assembly Education Committee Chairman Steve Kestell this week proposed monitoring Wisconsin private schools more like government schools, with deeper data collection and testing requirements. State Sen. Jennifer Shilling, a Democrat, also wants to make private schools subject to state open records laws, graduation requirements, and teacher licensing. Teacher licensing demands that teachers financially prop up politically biased teacher colleges by taking continuing education credits that decades of research prove do nothing to improve student achievement.

Walker has publicly supported funneling voucher schools through state accountability regimens. He, Olsen, and Kestell seem to have missed a central tenet of school choice: It makes schools primarily accountable to parents by giving them freedom to move their children from schools that do not meet their needs. In such a situation, government monitors are not just redundant, but a distraction from schools’ new mission of serving children to ensure the schools’ survival. Voucher programs are necessary because public schools do not serve all children equally well, and government regulations are a prime reason public schools fail. Turning private schools into public schools defeats the reason voucher programs exist.

In addition, research and history demonstrate accountability to parents is much more effective than government regulation. Just recently, former Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett demonstrated the trustworthiness of government “accountability” regimens for schools by changing state school grades to benefit a school run by a major campaign donor. As Andrew Coulson of the Cato Institute writes, “State officials and agencies, contrary to the implicit assumption of ‘accountability’ mavens, are not all wise, objective, beneficent philosopher-kings. They are people--and organizations made up of people--who have political and personal vested interests that do not always align with those of the families they nominally serve.”

SOURCE: Wisconsin State Journal, Cato Institute


School Choice Roundup

  • VIRGINIA: The GOP candidate for governor unveils his education reform plan. It includes a Parent Trigger, tax-credit scholarship expansion, and constitutional amendment to allow vouchers.
  • NEW HAMPSHIRE: Activists have found another way to trouble the state’s new school choice program: complaints to the state revenue department. New Hampshire’s tiny tax-credit scholarship program is also embattled by lawsuits.
  • FLORIDA: A study of the state’s wildly popular tax-credit scholarships found they primarily benefit poor and minority students. It also found disadvantaged students participating in the program learn as much as better-situated peers; without the program, the disadvantaged students lost academic ground each year.
  • LOUISIANA: The state’s independent charter school evaluator says government staff members pushed them to change recommendations for charter schools to approve. This arrives on the heels of emails showing Indiana’s former superintendent changed the state’s grading system to boost a certain charter school’s scores.

Common Core Watch

  • MICHIGAN: A legislative panel holds its third hearing on Common Core. Teachers union darling Diane Ravitch spoke against the standards alongside Hoover Institution fellow Bill Evers, and the hearing lasted five hours as lawmakers expanded time for public comment.
  • TESTING: The College Board revamps four of its tests to fit Common Core and compete with its federally funded assessments. The new tests will aim to accomplish much more than gauging student knowledge--President David Coleman, a lead writer of Common Core, says he wants to help target and track students into specific classes.

Education Today

  • NCLB: Three states must negotiate with the Obama administration over how much they can control their own education systems to retain their No Child Left Behind waivers. The administration is threatening them with yanking the waiver if they don’t make faster progress in tying teacher evaluation systems to student test scores.
  • SCHOOL LUNCH: The USDA congratulates a grand total of six states for complying with new federal lunch regulations on time this year. A recent Government Accounting Office report found the regulations greatly increased costs and food waste.

Thank you for reading! If you need a quicker fix of news about school choice, you can find daily updates online in the Ed News Roundup at http://news.heartland.org/education.

If you’d like me and The Heartland Institute to “keep up the good work ” on education issues, please consider making a contribution today!

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)