The release of the results of the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, the standardized test that every state public school is required to give, is a rite of spring for Wisconsin schools.
Distributed every year, the WKCEs provide educators, parents and community members with information about how well schools and districts are performing, broken down by subject and grade level.
The WKCEs are used alongside other measures to determine where schools are falling short and what is working well. For parents with many different types of educational options from which to choose, the WKCEs allow them to make informed choices about their child’s school. For taxpayers, the tests provide a level of transparency and demonstrate a return on investment.
But while state law requires all public schools to give the WKCEs, not all publicly funded schools are required do to so. Since its inception 20 years ago, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program has been virtually without any kind of meaningful accountability measures in place. Choice schools have not been required to have students take the WKCEs. That is, until this school year.
We have all done it at one time or another — opened our mouth before engaging our brain.
State Rep. Sondy Pope-Roberts, D-Middleton, just had one of those moments. In reacting to the news that, on average, students attending schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice program performed about the same or slightly below students in Milwaukee Public Schools, she said taxpayers are being “bamboozled” and the program is “a disservice to Milwaukee students.”
Whoa! Had she taken a moment to think before she spoke, here are a few things that should have occurred to her:
• Those private schools are performing about as well at educating Milwaukee children as the public schools — at half the cost. Public funding for each child in the choice program costs taxpayers $6,442 while each child in Milwaukee Public Schools receives taxpayer support of over $15,000. If all of the 21,000 choice students moved back into Milwaukee Public Schools, that would require a $74 million increase in local property taxes across the state, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.