By Patrick Elliott
FFRF Staff Attorney
Not surprisingly, the expansion of school vouchers in Wisconsin has brought a flood of taxpayer money to religious schools. What may surprise some is the fact that an overwhelming number of the voucher students who are now on the public dime were previously enrolled at parochial schools.
On Oct. 29, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction released enrollment information on the voucher expansion in Wisconsin. The DPI data reveal that 371 of the 512 students, 73%, had attended a private school last year, with tuition paid for with private funds. Only 21% attended a public school last year.
As FFRF has charged all along, taxpayer-funded vouchers were intended as a foot in the door to a statewide program of subsidizing parochial education. The voucher expansion was sold by snake oil salesmen claiming that “school choice” would save students from “failing” public schools. The DPI data expose the program for what it is: a scheme to fund religious schools, and to forge an incremental transition from a public education system to one that sends students to religiously segregated schools.
Voucher proponents tout the program as advancing “school choice.” But there is no “choice” involved. A full 100% of the voucher schools, 25 out of 25, are Christian schools and 17 out of 25 are Catholic schools. Christian schools are the only voucher option, and almost three quarters of the students in the program were already attending parochial schools.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that decisions on the future of the voucher program would be based on whether the students perform better at voucher schools. Yet, we already have data on the voucher schools in Milwaukee that have been receiving taxpayer money for years. Voucher students have performed worse than their peers. Only 13% of students in the Milwaukee voucher program tested proficient or better in math and 11% scored proficient or better in reading on 2012 state exams. Milwaukee Public Schools students tested at 19% and 14% respectively, with the state average much higher, 48% in math and 36% in reading. The Milwaukee voucher program has cost nearly $1.5 billion since it began in 1990. State funding for vouchers is continuing to the tune of over $192 million per year despite lackluster results.
Wisconsin’s 1848 Constitution provides a sound framework for Wisconsin schools:
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“The legislature shall provide by law for the establishment of district schools, which shall be as nearly uniform as practicable, and such schools shall be free, and without charge for tuition, to all children between the ages of four and twenty years, and no sectarian instruction shall be allowed therein.” Art. 10 Sec. 3.
The state should continue to offer a public education system and end its alarming experiment to allow church-run schools to siphon taxpayer funds.