We stand united in our state Capitol today to remind our elected officials that Wisconsin supports its public schools and demand they restore the tax dollars taken from our children.
To succeed, our students need real, immediate and lasting investments in solutions that we know work. We must fund investments that work and abandon reckless spending on programs that don’t. And we thank Rep. Jonathan Brostoff for bringing forward a bill that directly responds to the needs of our children and our communities with common sense policy that restores a critical investment in our children.
I am a public school parent. I also represent a statewide, nonpartisan network of other parents, active and retired educators, school board members, public school districts, concerned community members and business leaders who know that strong communities depend on strong public schools. We know that our schools are struggling to meet some of our students’ most basic needs. We also know that the resources our students need to succeed are being misdirected to an unaccountable private school voucher funding scheme.
We know that despite massive, vocal statewide opposition, every single one of the state’s voucher programs was fast-tracked into law by being tacked on to other bills. These budget shenanigans often occurred in the middle of the night and without giving the public even a chance to weigh in at a public hearing.
We also know that these voucher schools play by a different and unfair set of rules. They do not answer to a locally elected school board. They do not have to follow laws protecting students with disabilities. They do not have to follow the same stringent reporting and hiring requirements as public schools. They can use curriculum that is religious, unvetted and unscientific. They can – and frequently do – “counsel out” students who do not meet expectations, distorting the data on their performance and creating unfunded cost burdens for local public schools. This is unethical and we know it is wrong.
Wisconsin is spending $351,180,390.29 this year to provide taxpayer funded tuition vouchers to 43,450 students at 317 schools, nearly 100 percent of which are religious schools. We know that nearly all of the students in the statewide program already attended these private schools. We know that there is no plan whatsoever to address the rising costs of these programs or to prepare for the flood of spending when the enrollment caps are lifted altogether in 2026.
There are over 860,000 children whose parents choose to send them to the public schools that are the heart of our communities; public schools that accept, embrace and proudly serve ALL students. Yet data from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau shows that even as the unaccountable voucher program has been recklessly expanded, our public schools have been increasingly underserved by the state. According to the Wisconsin Budget Project, “In 2021, the state will invest less in public school districts than it did in 2011, something that has been true of every year in between as well. In 2021, Wisconsin school districts will receive $75 million less in state aid than in 2011 in inflation-adjusted dollars, or 1.2 percent less than in 2011.”
The simple fact is that Wisconsin is not meeting its obligation to the children the state Constitution requires us to serve. Instead, for political reasons, our lawmakers choose to deepen the inequities of an already-broken funding system.
The bill on the table today is a reasonable, necessary proposal that responds directly to the demands made by the Wisconsin communities and school leaders around the state for years: put our dollars into funding priority needs first. Keep class sizes small so that teachers can teach and students can learn. Give educators the freedom and ability to do what they do best. And stop the voucher scam that is tearing our communities apart and widening the gaps between have and have nots in our state.
We demand restoration of our investment in our children, and we call on every single legislator to have the courage to support the Public Education Reinvestment Act. It’s time to do what’s right by the 860,000 children who are counting on us today.