State Superintendent Tony Evers [SIS link] in a memo Monday urged the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to restore funding for public schools and work collaboratively to improve the quality of all Milwaukee schools before considering any voucher expansion.
“To spend hundreds of millions to expand a 20-year-old program that has not improved overall student achievement, while defunding public education, is morally wrong,” Evers said in the memo.
Gov. Scott Walker has proposed eliminating the income limits on participating in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, eliminating the enrollment cap and has proposed opening up private schools throughout Milwaukee County to accept vouchers from Milwaukee students. Walker has spoken of expanding the voucher program to other urban areas in the state, such as Racine, Green Bay and Beloit.
The Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was created to improve academic performance among low-income students who had limited access to high-performing schools. Low-income students use taxpayer money to attend private schools, including religious schools. Each voucher is worth $6,442. The program now is limited to 22,500 students; 20,189 are in the program this year.
However, after 20 years and spending over $1 billion, academic performance data and the enrollment history of the school choice program point to several “concerning trends,” Evers said in his analysis of voucher student enrollment, achievement, and projected cost for long-term expansion.
Low-income students in Milwaukee Public Schools have higher academic achievement, particularly in math, than their counterparts in choice schools. Evers cited this year’s Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts exams and the legislatively mandated University of Arkansas study, which showed significant numbers of choice students performing below average on reading and math.
At a press conference in Racine, DPI Superintendent Tony Evers gave his harshest criticism of school vouchers yet. Well beyond the typical quibbles over test scores and graduation rates, Evers claimed that school vouchers were de facto “morally wrong.” It’s not every day that a State Superintendent of education accuses an education-reform program of being immoral. In doing so, Tony Evers may have bitten off more than he could chew.
Calling a school voucher program morally wrong inculpates more than just the program, it inculpates parents, teachers, organizations, lawmakers, and a majority of Americans that endorse it. In fact, one could reasonably argue that Evers’ statement makes himself morally culpable since Milwaukee’s voucher program operates out of the Department of Public Instruction of which he is the head. What does it say about the character of a man that knowingly administers an immoral program out of his own department?
In short, Evers’ argument goes something like this: voucher programs drain public schools of their financial resources; drained resources hurt children academically; hurting children academically is morally wrong; ergo, voucher programs are morally wrong.