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Let's keep the focus on the kids

The June 3 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial that opposed the expansion of the statewide school choice program borrowed language from status quo defenders to make a slanted argument but not a policy statement. When words such as "ideologues" and "shadow school system" are used in this debate, it completely ignores the perspective of the most important group in education decisions — parents.

The expansion of the school choice program creates opportunities for parents across Wisconsin to choose the school that works best for their children, whether it be public, charter or choice. The Legislature can expand the program to any degree it wishes but if parents do not want to participate, there would be no expansion. Parents who choose to participate in this program in an effort to find a better solution for their children do not view the program as a "shadow" system. They view it as a real solution and, in some cases, a lifeline.

But the editorial focused heavily on the financing of the statewide program and how resources will be taken "out of public schools." The Legislative Fiscal Bureau released an estimate on the resources required to fund the Legislature's proposed expansion of the statewide program. The bureau created a range of between $600 million and $800 million over the next decade. Accuracy aside, let's put that number into context. 

The bureau notes that the resources required for public schools over that same time period totals $94 billion. That's billion, not million. So for all the hand-wringing on the cost of the program, after a decade of growth all over the state, the statewide program will cost less than 1% of the education resources allocated over that time.

In addition, funding for the statewide program will utilize an existing funding mechanism based on public school open enrollment. Under this plan, the state dollars that fund the voucher (or public school open enrollment) stays with the child. The money simply follows the student, as the local district is no longer required to educate that child.

In fact, under open enrollment funding, public school districts will levy property taxes for each student in the statewide program and simply keep that money for a child they are not educating. In some cases, that will be thousands of dollars per child.

If you listen to those who would protect the adults in the system at any cost, retaining only 99% of the funding would be a fatal blow. Of course, this falls short of any reality check, but their defense of the system is absolute.

The statewide program, as it grows over time, will focus on an entirely different aspect of education — parents and their ability to voluntarily find solutions for their children.

Jim Bender is president of School Choice Wisconsin.


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