Wisconsin Imposes New Regulations on Voucher schools

Wisconsin Imposes New Regulations on Voucher schools
June 3, 2014

Macaela Bennett

Macaela Bennett writes from Mackinac Island, Michigan. (read full bio)
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Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill in April requiring voucher schools to provide more data to the state and federal government, saying it will increase their transparency to government officials and parents. 

Senate bill 286 primarily does two things, said School Choice Wisconsin president Jim Bender. First, it set a timeline by which voucher schools must link up with a new statewide student data network, which collects personal information about students and teachers. Second, all students within the system must receive a unique student ID number.

“This is important, especially in Milwaukee where we have students moving back and forth [between schools],” Bender said. “Without it, information doesn’t transfer at all or is very slow in transferring.”

Privacy Concerns Dismissed
Although Bender acknowledged parent concerns about amassing personal information in hackable government databases, he said it will provide more accurate public information about all schools that receive tax dollars.

Although the new law did not include any extra data privacy protections, MacIver Institute policy analyst Christian D’Andrea said it won’t pose privacy problems.

Bender added it’s even a positive for voucher schools, because it will help them be compared more accurately to public schools.

“Any data can and will be taken out of context, but this will limit the ways voucher schools are incorrectly compared to public schools,” D’Andrea agreed.

Part of a Package
American Federation for Children advisor Scott Jensen said this legislation is the first of several legislative leaders hope to pass in the next couple years regarding voucher schools.

“This will help build a system that gives parents and taxpayers information about the quality of education being received by all publicly-funded students,” Jensen said. “That’s the goal and this is the first piece.”

Jensen said next steps will likely include developing a report card for every school, awards for high-performing schools, and reporting school safety and parent satisfaction.

“This is sort of like the way investments and stocks work in that everyone who sells stock is required to report financial information in a standardized format so investors can decide whether it’s the right investment or not,” Jensen said. “Right now, we’re not giving enough information for parents to make a smart choice.”

Lawmakers Decide Quality
Despite concerns about burdening voucher schools with more regulations, D’Andrea said this legislation should improve Wisconsin’s voucher program.

“Some schools don’t deserve to be in the voucher program and are parasites,” D’Andrea said. “Hopefully this will force them out and create more space for the high-performing schools. This is a step in the right direction, but a lot more work needs to be done.”

The new law does not provide a way to reward high-performing schools or punish low-performing ones, but the next legislative session, starting in January 2015, will likely include those measures, Jensen said.

“[Private] schools here are very skeptical,” Bender said. “They will have to see the absolute specifics of the program before rendering their support.”

Image by CLS Research Office

Macaela Bennett

Macaela Bennett writes from Mackinac Island, Michigan. (read full bio)