Pocan Op-Ed: Stop the Privatization of Public Education
By Rep. Mark Pocan
There are certain issues for which politicians will fight tooth and nail, and are the reason why they entered into public service in the first place. For me, access to high-quality public education always has been one of those issues. As a kid growing up in a working class home, high-quality public schools with caring teachers helped make me the person I am today.
And as someone who cares deeply about the strength of public education, I am dismayed at the recent attempts by Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Ron Johnson to use Wisconsin's education system as a political poker chip by expanding and promoting the state's taxpayer-funded voucher program.
The latest taxpayer-funded voucher expansion proposal, included in Walker's proposed budget, would cut almost $50 million in funding for public school districts over the next two years and cost taxpayers $800 million over the next 10 years.
And just recently, Johnson held a field hearing in Milwaukee, filled with a partisan panel of witnesses, to extol the virtues of the state's taxpayer-funded voucher program. While Johnson, national Republicans and Walker would have you believe otherwise, reality shows taxpayer-funded voucher schools are failing our children.
In Wisconsin, approximately 79% of the students who received a taxpayer-subsidized voucher in 2013 were already attending private schools. This means taxpayer dollars are not being used to advance public education, but instead are being used to subsidize the education of a small number of students already enrolled in private schools at the expense of students in public schools in an attempt to further privatize education.
Not only do voucher schools exhaust needed resources in public education, these schools also fail to serve all students. In Wisconsin, advocates for people with disabilities, including the ACLU and Disability Rights Wisconsin, have raised concerns that Wisconsin's school choice program, either tacitly or explicitly, allows voucher schools to discriminate against students with disabilities in their admission policies.
Johnson has called into question the purpose of a Department of Justice investigation into this alleged discrimination, citing the DOJ's opposition to private, religious schools as the reason behind the investigation. But Johnson misses the point; our public schools open their doors to educating all students and are held to higher transparency and accountability standards. On the other hand, taxpayer-funded vouchers allow private schools to choose which students they want to educate and have little accountability or transparency.
Unsurprisingly, this system has not generated a more effective or equitable education system in Wisconsin and has not improved student achievement, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
We must stop the movement to privatize public education at the expense of taxpayers. Instead, we must look to reinvest in our public education system, which remains a cornerstone of our democratic society.
Don't be fooled: Johnson and Walker see this expansion of the taxpayer-funded voucher program as a way to court conservatives on the campaign trail, not help strengthen Wisconsin's education system. Our students need access to high-quality education to prepare them for today's competitive globalized economy. We shouldn't allow anyone's presidential ambitions to trump our country's future doctors, scientists, engineers, teachers and public servants.