Educators, parents ask legislators to prioritize public schools over vouchers in state budget

Educators and parents are asking members of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to provide more funding for public schools that educate all children and pull back funding for private voucher schools.

“I am very concerned that there is an increase in funding for the unaccountable voucher program in the budget,” La Crosse teacher Mary Ender Stutesman writes in testimony presented to the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee. “The voucher system with its lack of accountability – not only for the quality of education received by students but for the quality of teaching practiced there – does not improve our democratic goal of quality education for all.”

Stutesman was among several La Crosse Education Association members who presented written testimony. The Joint Finance Committee is re-writing Governor Walker’s state budget proposal and is conducting hearings this month.

“I am a firm believer in public education, and it pains me to see more money taken away from the public school system and given to the voucher system,” writes La Crosse teacher Lisa Colburn. “The public schools serve all students, regardless of their income, their ability or their disadvantages. Voucher schools not only pick and choose their students, they also remove students who struggle in their system. Those students are sent back to the public schools, where educators as always do their best to educate those students.”

In addition, Colburn added, students who attend voucher schools “do worse on standardized tests than their public school peers,” and many voucher schools have shut down, “taking state money and leaving the children behind.”

La Crosse teacher Bryan Morris asks legislators to provide equity in school funding. “By using the per-pupil funding method, you will be leaving our neediest districts and students behind,” he writes. “Please consider funding based upon needs rather than a one-size-fits-all method.”

“Each year our budgets are tighter and tighter, and the priority of education can no longer focus on what is best for kids because districts are struggling to pay the basic necessities such as lights, heat, bus transportation and office supplies,” writes La Crosse teacher Rose Kulig. “Despite tight budgets and high needs, we find money that used to be used for public schools being used to support vouchers to fund private schools that used to operate without the use of tax dollars. To me it seems our current situation will only get worse as more money is allocated for vouchers and less for public schools.”

La Crosse teacher Eric Martin writes that since 2010 in particular, “budgets have been brutal, and teachers have been asked to do more than ever while simultaneously acting as a political punching bag.”

“It is a testament to the excellence of our state’s educators that districts like ours in La Crosse have been able to still serve their students at a high level with the care that students deserve.”

Martin noted that fewer young people are going into the teaching profession and it’s not very difficult to connect the dots between that trend and “the way public education has been vilified by many in Wisconsin.”

“Wisconsin students deserve better from their state than they have received over much of the past decade,” Martin writes. “Wisconsin’s public schools have always been among the very best in the United States. We must continue to invest in them and pursue wise policies which will keep them that way for the sake of our most precious resource – our young people.”

La Crosse teacher Chad Wilkinson writes that he has taught in both the public and private school systems and that “one of the things that made teaching easier in the private school system was the ability to remove the worst kids, the kids that were tough to educate, and send them to the public school system.”

“Vouchers take money from the institution that needs it the most. In the public system, we get ‘those’ kids. We work hard to get them to graduate and succeed.”

La Crosse teacher Daniel Kaczmarowski notes that the governor’s budget proposal increases vouchers by $217 per pupil while increasing funding for public school students by only $200 per pupil. “If it is decided to continue down the road of funding more and more voucher students, our public schools will suffer as the state will not be able to afford its obligation, and districts will have to cut services for students. Stop throwing my tax dollars to (private) schools that, on average, achieve the same or worse than our excellent public schools in Wisconsin.”

La Crosse parent Andrew Stutesman writes that he is troubled by the “meager increase contained in the budget for public schools that educate every child.”

“This increase does not keep pace with inflation, while costs go up every year,” he writes. “Every year we have more students, with more profound challenges, that need more support. Yet, every year we end up decreasing that support. We have fewer social workers, fewer guidance counselors, fewer librarians, and fewer enrichment programs such as world languages and the arts. …

“I urge you to create a budget that does what government is supposed to do: provide for the least among us so that they, too, can participate in the American dream: a cultural, social, economic, and political success of our wonderful state!”

Wausau teacher Robert Hughes also emphasizes the need to support public education.

“Public schools are the one place in society where everyone gets a seat at the table,” Hughes writes. “People with diverse backgrounds have a right to a quality education, from certified public education teachers. We can make Wisconsin strong again by fully funding public schools, and breaking down barriers for the next generation.”